The Tragedy of Landmines
The President of the American Orthopedic Foot and Ankle Society (AOFAS), Dr. Pierce Scranton, described his organization’s efforts to surgically repair damage brought on by unexploded landmines, particularly in Vietnam. Each year, 28,000 people in the world are killed or maimed by landmines, a fact that has not gone unnoticed in the ranks of Rotary International. Last fall, Rotary and the U.S. State Department convened a conference dedicated to “Ending the Tragedy of Landmines,” a meeting that attracted 250 attendees and representatives from 22 nations.
Cary Kopczynski introduces Dr. Pierce Scranton.
Dr. Scranton gave a first-hand account of how the AOFAS and its newly created Outreach and Education Fund has partnered with corporate America to send teams of surgeons overseas to help the populations struck by the landmine tragedy. Dr. Scranton said the Society has 1,800 surgeon members and, together with American corporations, over $3 million has been raised during the past 18 months.
The Outreach and Education Fund is an endowment-like fund set up to preserve the Society’s mission of promoting education and research for the foot and ankle.
Dr. Scranton traveled to Vietnam earlier this year to propose an arrangement to work for the landmine sufferers through the Vietnamese government. “I had to prove to them that I knew what I was doing, so I did some preliminary work that convinced them we could help.” Next, a two-person surgical team was sent to Vietnam, in conjunction with the Prosthetic Outreach Fund (POF), a group that fashions prosthetics for people who’ve lost limbs to landmines.
“There are 107,000 amputees in Vietnam, and we spent 30 days caring for what turned out to be a group of nearly 60 people. Our contract with the government called for surgeries on 30 children, but we had trouble turning down some very needy people. We did surgeries on deformed legs, Agent Orange sufferers, children with club feet, and witnessed lots of children stricken with polio.”
At the POF technology center, they conduct research on prosthetic failure, trying to determine points of stress. The research leads to finding new composites available to build prostheses. Dr. Scranton described how people – many bringing their children from distant villages – would “hop into the clinic and be able to walk out. In many cases, we would refashion their stumps by surgery, refitting with a new stump.” Dr. Scranton brought along some very graphic pictures of the procedures used.
“We are due to return early next year to Vinh, where we expect to see another large group of children and others who depend on prosthetic surgery to get around. The Vietnamese people are “amazingly industrious people. They have forgiven the war, fixing blame on our government at the time.”
Dr. Scranton and his team traveled between several points during their first visit. “There is controlled chaos on roads – bicycles, scooters, trucks, cars, and pedestrians all fighting for the right-of-way. The rules of the road are – there are no rules, the center line is irrelevant, the loudest horn is more important, size matters, and when you drive in Vietnam, you must trust God or at least depend on Divine Intervention!”
The results of the first visit and initial fundraising have been to uncover a list of intangibles. “We realize we need to equip hospitals with proper equipment if this program is to be successful. The Vietnamese love Americans. It gives us hope to know we can completely transform the lives of many people with our skills. Our goal is to continue fundraising, continue to develop the overseas fellowship and go each year for a month and teach doctors how to use equipment.”
Thanks to Cary Kopczynski for his introduction. On behalf of the BBRC, Dr. Scranton received a certificate showing the Club had purchased 240 doses of polio vaccine to be used in future immunization efforts as Rotary works toward eradicating polio by 2005.
President Kim Shrader (L) presents a certificate to Dr. Scranton.