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ORANGE COUNTY FOCUS

NEWPORT BEACH : Vietnam Children Get Help for Hearts

March 21, 1994|BOB ELSTON

In Vietnam, hospitals aren't able to provide enough specialized, expensive treatment for the many children who need open-heart surgery.

But with help from ProMedica International of Newport Beach, some financial supporters living in Orange County and a French-run medical institute in the Asian country, some of the children are getting the attention they need.

Judie Vivian, chief executive at ProMedica, a medical service company that helps sustain the 2-year-old Vietnam Heart Institute in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), said that so far about 1,500 children have received treatment.

The 40-bed clinic was started in 1990 by two French cardiologists, Alain Carpentier and Alain Deloche, and sits on an abandoned football field at a military camp.

There are two operating rooms equipped for an average of four open-heart surgeries a day as well as pre- and postoperative care.

Vivian, a mechanical engineer who once designed artificial heart valves, said that Vietnamese health care has resources to deal only with common ailments, not expensive, complicated procedures.

As a result, thousands of Vietnamese children who are born with defective hearts or acquire a rheumatic disease go untreated.

While French and Vietnamese physicians practice medicine at the institute, Vivian and her company head the effort in the United States to attract donors to pay for surgery for the many indigent children who arrive at the institute desperately needing help.

President Clinton's lifting of the U.S. trade embargo against Vietnam earlier this year has opened new opportunities for the heart institute and ProMedica.

"Before the embargo, we tried to keep a low profile," Vivian said, adding that many in the Vietnamese community here are critical of businesses that operate in Vietnam under the Communist government.

"Politics has become very tricky. But we are completely autonomous from the government. And we target children."

ProMedica wants to expand its foothold in Southeast Asia and plans a teleconference in which Asian doctors can watch open-heart surgery performed on patients at the clinic.

Vivian hopes the effort will help doctors from neighboring countries to learn heart surgery techniques and the more basic things like proper sterilization and hospital hygiene.

Diana Nguyen, who works at Baxter Healthcare in Irvine, is a sponsor who has donated more than $1,000 to the heart institute.

With donations from Nguyen and a pool of Baxter employees, an 18-month-old Vietnamese child who was born with a heart problem recently underwent corrective heart surgery.

"She's doing fine," Nguyen said proudly, adding: "I do it because I am from that country and am grateful to be able to help people who need the help."

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