MACON – Mercer University’s signature Mercer On Mission program on June 26 fitted its 10,000th Vietnamese amputee with Dr. Ha Van Vo’s patented leg prosthetic.
Mercer On Mission’s prosthetics program in Vietnam began in 2009 when Dr. Vo, Distinguished University Professor of Biomedical Engineering, realized a dream. As a young boy growing up in South Vietnam after the Vietnam War, he hoped to someday make a difference for his fellow citizens who lost limbs primarily from unexploded ordnance left after the war.
Today, it is estimated that there are more than 100,000 amputees in an economy that depends heavily on jobs that are difficult – if not impossible – to fulfill without the use of both legs.
On the first trip a decade ago, a team of Mercer faculty and students fit about 38 people in the town of Phung Hiep.
“What’s been at the heart of this program is this prosthetic leg that Dr. Vo designed,” said Dr. Craig McMahan, University minister and dean of Chapel, who oversees Mercer On Mission. “It’s an incredible piece of equipment. It is very light and durable, and it’s a very comfortable prosthesis. It weighs less than two pounds so the amputees find it to be very comfortable and functional.”
At first, Dr. Vo and his students were making the prosthetics in his lab on the Macon campus and carrying them in their suitcases to Vietnam, but the program soon outgrew this modest mode of production and transportation.
Thanks in large part to the generosity of Macon businessman Chris Sheridan, who through a family foundation contributes $250,000 per year to the program, prosthetics are now being produced in Vietnam.
Mercer On Mission operates clinics in four locations around the country and trains local doctors and technicians to fit the prosthetic year-round in the absence of Dr. Vo and his team.
Altogether, Mercer On Mission has fit around 10 percent of the amputees in the country, allowing thousands of people to contribute economically, socially and in other ways they couldn’t in the past. The program is also stimulating the local economy through the creation of jobs for manufacturers and fitters.
In addition to more than a dozen trips to Vietnam, the program has made one trip to Haiti following that country’s devastating earthquake in 2010. The United Nations and other international agencies have had discussions with the University about expanding the program into other countries.
Furthermore, Mercer On Mission has been recognized by former President Bill Clinton and the Clinton Global Initiative for the program’s efforts to help amputees in Vietnam and other developing nations as “as an exemplary approach to addressing a specific global challenge.”
Mercer On Mission combines study abroad and service-learning to provide life-changing experiences for students through academic instruction, cultural immersion, meaningful service and spiritual reflection. For more information, visit mom.mercer.edu.