Prof. Phuong’s New Mission: Strengthening Local Cleft Care

4 December 2020 | Smile Train

There is an old saying in Vietnam: Of a person’s hundred virtues, devotion to their parents is the greatest. For Prof. Lam Hoai Phuong, one of Smile Train’s newest partner doctors, this is so much more than ancient wisdom.

Prof. Phuong with Smile Train's Area Director, Southeast Asia, Nguyễn Trí Dũng

Though not born with a cleft herself, cleft care has played a central role in her family story. Her father, the late Prof. Lam Ngoc An, was a pioneering cleft surgeon in Vietnam and encouraged her to build on his legacy. As heir to both his passion and his skilled hands, Prof. Phuong has done just that and then some and is now one of the most respected cleft specialists in Southeast Asia.

Prof. Phuong first rose to prominence as director of a leading government hospital in Hồ Chí Minh City. While there, she worked for many years alongside a mission trip-based cleft organisation and soon became one of their premier local contacts — they even gave her a lifetime achievement award in recognition of how the quality of her work was matched only by her passion for it.

But their model didn't leave her hospital better equipped to treat cleft patients once their mission trips ended. She wanted to do more.

So, she founded her own private hospital, My Thien, in Hồ Chí Minh City. Though she started small, she has big plans for the future, including expanding her services to include other essential cleft treatments beyond surgery that will help her patients not just survive, but thrive, such as nutritional support, speech therapy, and orthodontics. And this year, she found the perfect partner for this endeavour — Smile Train.

Like Prof. Phuong, Smile Train is also a pioneer in cleft care. Likewise seeing the flaws in mission trip-based models, Smile Train is the world’s largest nonprofit with a model of training and empowering local healthcare workers to provide cleft care in their own communities at no cost to patients’ families. This approach is sustainable, builds up entire local healthcare systems, gives children with clefts local role models, and allows doctors to provide care — including non-surgical care — at the time that’s best for the patient, not according to some arbitrary mission schedule. It is also what has allowed the organisation to sponsor more than 1.5 million cleft surgeries in just 21 years — more than every other charity on earth combined.

“I had the pleasure of working with Prof. Phuong and found her to be one of the most diligent, skilled, and committed surgeons I have met”, said Erin Stieber, Smile Train’s SVP of Programs. “She is also a very kind woman. It is truly fantastic and a testament to our model and staff leadership that she has decided to join us. We are all so excited to help her continue her father’s legacy of bringing lifesaving smiles to Hồ Chí Minh City and all of Vietnam.”