It had never happened before: a team of 15 leading U.S. eye specialists traveling to Vietnam, to devote a week to training local eye surgeons in the latest techniques in modern eye care.
UC Davis alumnus Dr. Robert B. Miller, '82, a prominent Northern California cataract refractive surgeon, was among faculty members invited to the Imperial City Eye Meeting, held in May in Hue City, Vietnam, to demonstrate his eye surgical techniques.
Congress Hall in the Century Riverside Hotel in Hue City was packed with 234 eager Vietnamese eye surgeons from Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Hanoi, Danang, and all parts of the country to hear Dr. Miller and other U.S. eye care leaders. The program featured modern treatment of cataracts and intraocular lens implantation, but also included laser and refractive surgery, oculoplastic and reconstructive surgery, retinal surgery and glaucoma.
Dr. Miller and his fellow faculty members traveled to Vietnam at their own expense to spend a week donating their time in lectures and laboratory training sessions.
"We are really doing this for the patients of our Vietnamese colleagues," said Miller. "They are the ones who will benefit from the enhanced skills we impart to their surgeons."
The Imperial City Eye Meeting was sponsored by the non-profit Hawaiian Eye Foundation, based in Honolulu. President John M. Corboy, M.D., explained that the charitable foundation has been conducting humanitarian eye care missions in the South Pacific for 30 years.
"Recently we expanded our foundation outreach activities to Asia, teaching eye surgery in Vietnam hospitals on an individualized basis," said Corboy. "We decided to bring a team of U.S. experts such as Dr. Miller to amplify the teaching value for a larger audience."
"We were pleasantly surprised to learn that a majority of the eye surgeons in Vietnam chose to attend our first conference," said Corboy. "These doctors are eager to bring their skills up to modern standards, to provide their patients with the best possible visual restoration."
The Hawaiian Eye Foundation has sponsored the Royal Hawaiian Eye Meeting, the third largest annual U.S. eye care symposium, since 1976.
"Our conference experience for almost three decades allowed us to effectively partner with the Hue Central Hospital, as well as a number of U.S. and Asian equipment, instrument, and pharmaceutical companies, to create the most effective group-learning conditions in lecture hall and eye lab exercises," Dr. Corboy said. "Working in a foreign language under socialism provided some interesting challenges."
"We are particularly indebted to Robert Miller and other specialists who so generously donate their time, money, and skills to help others," said Corboy. "Without strong faculty support, we could never have created this historic event. In fact, our Vietnamese colleagues were so delighted that they are already insisting we return for a Second Annual Imperial City Eye Meeting."
Dr. Miller had created his PowerPoint presentations months in advance, so that his slides could be translated by a team of Vietnamese medical interpreters. Miller later provided a DVD of his material to each member of the audience.
In addition to the daily lectures, the Vietnamese eye surgeons were given individualized laboratory instruction on a one-on-one basis by their American colleagues. Operating under powerful microscopes on pigs' eyes, Dr. Miller guided trainees through the latest techniques in ultrasonic cataract removal (phacoemulsification), while recording their efforts on videotape for later review.
"It was such a delightful experience," said Miller. "I'm definitely planning on returning. The doctors need our help, and their patients are so loving and grateful. In appreciation of our efforts, the local doctors gave us tours of the Citadel, former palace of the Nguyen Emperors, as well as local temples and pagodas. But our tour of the DMZ (de-militarized zone), scene of fierce fighting during the Vietnam War, was the most moving experience for me," Miller said.
After the week-long meeting, Miller and faculty toured North Vietnam, visiting historic and cultural sites in Hanoi, Danang, Hoi An and Ha Long Bay.
"When we realized that our team's efforts will change the future of eye care for an entire country, it is pretty amazing," said Dr. Miller. "I'm very humbled and grateful for this opportunity to make such a difference in people's lives. I can hardly wait to return!"
For further information, or to make a tax-deductible donation to further the foundation's charitable education efforts, please contact Executive Director Joette Manning at firstname.lastname@example.org or write to: Hawaiian Eye Foundation, 95-717 Kipapa Dr., #23, Mililani, HI 96789.