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International cooperation will bring new treatments for disfiguring skin growths.
Boston — Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon, is more than 8,500 miles from Boston, but a direct link between the two cities’ medical communities is being forged by Dr Martin Mihm.
Mihm, 74, a dermatologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and a professor at Harvard Medical School, is establishing a free clinic in to help Vietnamese children with vascular anomalies.
Vascular anomalies are skin growths that appear on children, often on their faces or necks, that can be severely disfiguring and interfere with their abilities to see, smell, eat and breathe.
Mihm helps children with these vascular anomalies in Boston and across the United States and now, after raising donations and the cooperation of some other specialists, he is about to help Vietnamese children with these problem growths.
“This is taking care of children who really need to be taken care of,” Mihm said at his office in Mass General. “There are children all over the world who have this problem.”
There are not, however, facilities to treat the majority of them. There are no clinics in Vietnam or the rest of Southeast Asia. “They had no idea where to go for treatment,” said Mihm.
Mihm’s Vietnam clinic will open Feb. 17, with a ceremony at the White Palace, formerly South Vietnam’s executive mansion and now a convention center.
The clinic is a collaboration between Harvard Medical School, Baylor College of Medicine, University of California, Irvine, and the Candela Corporation, which donated the state of the art pulse dye laser for treating the patients. The new clinic be based at Nguyen Tri Phuong Hospital.
“The clinic here will provide care for a sorely needed population of patients, especially children,” said Dr. Minh Hoang, a dermatologist at the hospital in Ho Chi Minh City. “Even before we advertise to the general public, within our communities, there is already an overwhelming response.”
More than 15 Vietnamese children are scheduled for the first two-day clinic which will bring together a dermatologist, a plastic surgeon, an ear-nose-and throat doctor, a radiologist, a pediatrician, and a laser specialist for treatment. The team of American specialists will train their Vietnamese colleagues how to diagnose and treat children with the skin growths, using the laser machine. After that the clinic will meet on a monthly or bimonthly basis, with some American doctors flying to Vietnam to assist.
Treatments primarily consist of surgery to remove the lesions, as well as laser treatments. Mihm hopes the new clinic will be able to help most of the children in Vietnam who need such treatment, although those with the most complex problems will be referred to Mass General for treatment.
This is the sixth clinic Mihm has organized in the last 14 years. Mihm, the director of Massachusetts General Hospital’s Vascular Anomalies Clinic, and has established others in Spain, Italy and Greece.
“We’re starting from scratch, in a place where there is nothing,” he said, of opening the clinic in a country that previously had few options for children and parents affected by vascular anomalies. “They had no hope. And now they know there is hope for their child.”
In addition to giving his time in setting up the clinic and serving as a consultant, which will require several trips to Vietnam each year, Mihm has donated the center’s first year budget of $10,000. “Someone had to do it, so I thought ‘Well, I’ll do it,’” he said. “The least I can do is give them some money.”
“As long as I can work, I’ll keep going,” Mihm said. He already has plans in the works to create a vascular anomalies clinic in Dubai, and he is thinking of opening still more in India and Taiwan. It keeps Mihm busy, but he says it gives him gratification. “Of all the things I’ve done,” said Mihm, “I’m as proud of this as anything.”