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Friday, January 13, 2012

2 nonprofit medical missions prepare for Cambodia trips

By Greg Mellen Staff Writer


LONG BEACH - Two local nonprofits are in the homestretch of planning medical missions to Cambodia later this month.

Hearts Without Boundaries will be teaming with Children's Lifeline to provide cardiac surgeries to a dozen destitute children in Siem Reap.

And Cambodia Health Professionals Association of America will embark on its second trip to Cambodia, a six-day mission to treat 1,000 patients per day in Koh Kong province in southern Cambodia.

On Saturday, Hearts Without Boundaries is holding a fundraising dinner and party in advance of its mission, while CHPAA will finish packing for its journey by bundling health supplies at St. Mary Medical Center.

The two separate missions will save lives and deliver health care where they might not be otherwise available.
Hearts Without Boundaries, which has brought four children with heart defects to the United States for surgeries over the past four years, will for the first time help bring the care directly to the children in Cambodia.

Both organizations are upping the ante significantly. Hearts Without Boundaries will be assisting surgeons perform life-saving surgeries in Siem Reap; Cambodian Health Professionals, in its second trip, expects to double the number of patients it saw last year.

In recent years, HWB has assisted physicians with the nonprofit Variety Children's Lifeline in performing minor heart procedures at Angkor Hospital For Children, and taught Cambodian physicians how to perform the procedures themselves.


Last year, the hospital finally received the equipment needed to perform open heart surgery. Between Jan. 23 and Jan. 28, doctors from the University of California, San Diego Rady Children's Hospital and Children's Hospital Wisconsin will be able to perform operations and teach Cambodian health providers how to perform more advanced surgeries.

The doctors will treat a dozen patients. Six will receive open-heart surgeries.

In the United States, congenital heart defects requiring open heart surgery are typically performed in a child's first year. In Cambodia, many children never receive treatment and die young.

Peter Chhun, founder of Hearts Without Boundaries, cited a recent report that found 100,000 Cambodian children suffer from congenital defects, and 10 percent of those are in urgent need of surgery.

While bringing children to the U.S. is gratifying, Chhun hopes to be able to help fund more efficient missions like this to Cambodia, where children can be treated for a fraction of the cost. And, as Cambodian doctors are trained, they will be able to take over providing the surgeries themselves in years to come.

Last year, Cambodian Health Professionals conducted its first mission to Cambodia, called Project Angkor, and was overwhelmed by the response in the United States and abroad.

More than 50 volunteers traveled to Cambodia and provided medical and dental care to more than 500 patients per day. Even then, according to Teri Tan, who helped run the mission, between 2,000 and 3,000 had to be turned away.

This year, the group also plans to bring about 5,000 pounds in supplies, the last of which they will be preparing Saturday morning at the Health Enhancement Center Building at the St. Mary campus.

One of the volunteers on his first mission is Kosal Kom. The Long Beach dentist is a survivor of the Khmer Rouge genocide that caused the deaths of upward of 2 million Cambodians. Last year, Kom assisted with preparations but was unable to make the trip.

"This time I'm in it from A to Z," Kom said.

He and five other dentists will perform extractions and restoration where possible.

"I'm very excited," Kom said. "It gives me a feeling of satisfaction."

greg.mellen@presstelegram.com, 562-714-2093


Want to go?

What: Hearts Without Boundaries fundraiser

When: Saturday,

6 p.m. to midnight

Where: Golden Villa, 1360 Anaheim Ave., Long Beach

Cost: A donation of $35,

$20 for students, is requested

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