MACON – Mercer University faculty Dr. Ha Vo and Dr. Craig McMahan recently attended a celebration of the 20th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Vietnam and the U.S. as invited guests of Vietnamese Ambassador Pham Quang Vinh.
“It was a great honor to be invited to this event,” Dr. McMahan said of the celebration, which was held last Thursday at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, D.C.
“The guest list was comprised of a relatively small number of people and organizations who had made a substantial difference in healing the wounds of war and building new foundations for peace and prosperity between our two nations. Being included in such rare company speaks volumes about the impact that our Mercer On Mission prosthetics program has made in Vietnam under the tireless efforts of Dr. Vo.”
Dr. Vo, associate professor of biomedical engineering, and Dr. McMahan, dean of chapel and University minister, have led students and faculty on 10 trips to Vietnam since 2009 as part of the University's unique Mercer On Mission initiative. They have fitted over 4,000 amputees with Dr. Vo's patented Universal Socket Prosthetic, a highly durable prosthetic leg that costs less than $200 to manufacture.
The most recent trip took place over three weeks this summer as 24 students and four faculty members fit 489 amputees.
Mercer's program in Vietnam continues to receive the support of the country's government. On June 25, the program was issued a Certificate of Operation, which officially acknowledges the Vietnamese government's recognition and approval of its work. The certificate allows program-related taxes and fees to be waived, provides access to banking privileges and facilitates major purchases such as a vehicle that will allow trained fitters to travel among several clinics in the country.
Dr. Vo and Dr. McMahan met Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang and several other officials during a visit to the country this past February when they set up a third clinical base. With seven full-time Vietnamese fitters and Mercer On Mission fitters visiting each summer, the program has the potential to fit as many as 2,000 amputees each year at clinics in the southern cities of Ben Tre, Can Tho and Phung Hiep.
The Vietnamese government recently requested that the program expand its work to Hanoi and the northern region of the country. Dr. Vo, Dr. McMahan and Macon businessman Chris Sheridan, whose foundation has pledged over $1.25 million to the program, plan to return to Vietnam soon to explore the feasibility of establishing a new clinical base in that area.
“The Vietnam prosthetics program is one of the University's most compelling examples of how the integration of research and service can not only provide relevant vocational preparation for students, but also fulfill the part of Mercer's mission that encourages students to discover and develop fully their unique combination of gifts and talents to become leaders who make a positive difference in the world,” said Mercer President William D. Underwood, who traveled to Vietnam as part of the program in December 2013.
The work of this program stems from the childhood of Dr. Vo, who grew up in Vietnam and experienced many of the horrors of the Vietnam War, such as seeing the ravaging consequences of unexploded ordnance left throughout the countryside of South Vietnam.
Dr. Vo and his family eventually came to the U.S. in 1990 and he put himself through college, earning degrees in medicine, podiatric medicine and surgery, manufacturing engineering and biomedical engineering.
He and Dr. McMahan both joined Mercer's faculty in 2005. They became friends, and when Dr. McMahan was asked by President Underwood to design and implement the Mercer On Mission initiative, they developed a plan to include a prosthetics program in Vietnam.
In addition to the 10 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.
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.
This summer, Mercer On Mission deployed its largest cohort of students and faculty in its nine-year history, as 180 students and 36 faculty participated in service projects in 12 locations around the world.
For more information on Mercer On Mission, visit mom.mercer.edu.
Editor's note: Center for Collaborative Journalism students Marin Guta and Burgess Brown filmed and produced the two videos above. Guta traveled to Vietnam this summer as part of a new program to embed journalism students in Mercer On Mission programs to document the work being done. She captured several of the photographs below and authored a blog detailing her experiences, which can be read here.