Darwin Doctor makes Vietnam theatre debut

This article has photo gallery Published on LEUT Sarah West (author), SGT Ray Vance (photographer)

Location(s): Nha Trang

Topic(s): Exercise PACIFIC PARTNERSHIP, Health, Fitness and Wellbeing

Surgeons in the operating theatre of Khan Hoa General Hospital immediately after jointly conducting reconstructive surgery to restore shoulder mobility to a patient's arm which was limited due to scarring caused by serious electrical burns. (photo: SGT Ray Vance)
Surgeons in the operating theatre of Khan Hoa General Hospital immediately after jointly conducting reconstructive surgery to restore shoulder mobility to a patient's arm which was limited due to scarring caused by serious electrical burns.

An Australian Defence Force surgeon from Darwin has helped a Vietnamese man with severe electrical burn scars to regain full use of his right arm.

The life-changing surgery was conducted during a three-hour operation at Khan Hoa General Hospital in Nha Trang, Vietnam.

Commander Ravi Mahajani, a Royal Australian Navy Reserve Medical Officer, is in Vietnam for Exercise PACIFIC PARTNERSHIP 17 – the latest of the largest annual multi-national humanitarian assistance and disaster preparedness missions conducted in the Indo-Asia-Pacific Region.

The experienced Australian plastic and reconstructive surgeon worked alongside a multi-national medical team in the operating theatre, including a plastic surgeon from the United States Navy and two local orthopaedic surgeons.

"This patient had a fused armpit as a result of severe electrical burns, so he couldn't lift his arm above shoulder height," Commander Mahajani said.

"People who have established burns have significant scar contractures, which mean the scars can prevent them from being able to move their joints.

"This happens because the tissue sticks together and forms a significant scar which won’t stretch like normal skin and tissue,” he said.

Commander Mahajani said scars can often affects a person’s quality of life because they can't work or enjoy other activities that they would otherwise be able to do.

"So we released the scar and put new tissue in its place to give him joint mobility back," he said.

The Navy Reservist said he was pleased to be able to teach the Vietnamese doctors a new procedure.

"This operation is an established operation in the western world for addressing this sort of contracture problem, but our Vietnamese surgeons hadn't seen it done this way before," Commander Mahajani said.

"They have been using a different type of operation to treat this type of problem and had already tried it to help this patient, so we had the opportunity to show them a different procedure that will restore full function of the arm.

"In this instance, we took some of the patient's back muscle with the skin attached to it, and we rotated it around into the big hole that we had made into his armpit to release the contracture.

"It was a really good collaboration between people from different nations, and we were learning things from each other, which was fantastic.” 

The event was Commander Mahajani’s first opportunity to work in a hospital in Vietnam.

He said he was very impressed by the Vietnamese surgical team.

"I thought the surgery went very well - they had a very good theatre set up, the anaesthetist was fantastic, the surgeons - doctors Khanh and Hoan - really knew their stuff, and the scrub and scout team was very keen," he said.

"The United States Navy Surgeon, Lieutenant Commander Jason Souza, also did a very good job.

"It really was a superb show,” Commander Mahajani said.

Most importantly, Commander Mahajani believes the patient will now have a much better quality of life.

"He will be able to move his arm much more freely - he'll have function and form and he'll be able to use his hand for all the things he wants to do, including work," he said.

"Pacific Partnership really is a wonderful opportunity to work with our partner nations, to learn from each other, and really help people in the process."

Exercise PACIFIC PARTNERSHIP 2017 will conclude in Nha Trang at the end of May.

Commander Mahajani will complete several more surgeries this week, before the mission concludes.

Australia has been involved every year with PACIFIC PARTNERSHIP since it was first started more than twelve years ago after the multinational humanitarian assistance and disaster relief response to the 2004 tsunami event in Banda Aceh.