Vinacapital Foundation

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“World Class” Treatment of Congenital Heart Defects in Vietnam

An Interview with Dr. Casey Culbertson, Medical Advisor of the VinaCapital Foundation

Dr. Casey Culbertson (California, US) is one of the long-term medical advisors to the VinaCapital Foundation.

Dr. Culbertson is the Cardiovascular Medical Doctor of GE Healthcare and is a Board-Certified Pediatrician and Pediatric Cardiologist with 30 years of experience. Prior to joining GE Healthcare in 2017, he co-founded and contributed as Medical Advisor to MD1World.com, a platform for international physicians to share expertise and knowledge to find solutions for challenging disease processes in patients around the world.

Dr. Culbertson first came to Vietnam in 2005 to support cardiovascular treatment capacity with a focus on Pediatric Cardiology and Cardiovascular Intensive Care units. Over the past 14 years, Dr. Culbertson has facilitated numerous training at the National Children’s Hospital, Hanoi Heart Institute, the University Medical Center and Children Hospital 1 and 2 in Ho Chi Minh City. His programs provide both didactic knowledge and hands-on skills to build capacity for pediatric cardiology, echocardiography, cardiac surgery and intensive care management for children born with congenital heart defects. Doctors trained by Dr. Culbertson at Children’s Hospitals 1 and 2 have operated on more than 20,000 children with congenital heart defects in the last decade.

This interview takes place in February 2020 when Dr. Culbertson is working with pediatric cardiologists in Vietnam. Dr. Culbertson talks about the improvement of pediatric cardiology healthcare in Vietnam and to where he expects VCF to expand to provide life-changing support to more underserved children and adults.

The Interview

VinaCapital Foundation: Can you share your general view of congenital heart defects in Vietnamese children? How important is an early medical diagnosis in the treatment of children with heart defects and diseases? 

Dr. Culbertson:

The presence of congenital heart defects in Vietnam is very close to the average ratio world. It means about 1 percent of children born every year suffer from congenital heart defects. Early diagnosis is critical for the treatment of those children, especially whose defects involve patent ductus arteriosus (PDA, an opening between the two major blood vessels leading from the heart which usually closes after birth). Early diagnosis, interventions and often surgery to repair PDA are critical to an infant’s health and survival.

VCF: What is the role of VCF’s mobile outreach clinics in detecting heart problems for children in rural and remote areas? 

Dr. Culbertson:

VCF’s mobile outreach clinics are so important in treatment for children with congenital heart defects. The clinics provide early detection for Vietnamese children who live in rural, remote provinces where access to healthcare, especially Pediatric Cardiology, is extremely limited. Finding the children early in their live results in timely intervention either by surgery or cardiac catheterization for the best outcomes.

VCF: Since the first time you visited Vietnam, how have pediatric cardiology improved in, for instance, the expertise of cardiologists and/or the technology in diagnostics, surgery, and postoperative treatment?

Dr. Culbertson:

I have seen tremendous improvements since my first visit to Vietnam in 2005. Vietnamese Pediatric Cardiologists, Cardiovascular Surgeons, and Cardiac Intensivists now utilized Echocardiogram and Cardiovascular imaging technology, combined with their advanced training that I and other groups of experts provided, to improve significantly their ability to diagnose and repair children with congenital heart defects. Nowadays in specialized institutions across Vietnam, ‘world-class’ outcomes are produced in treatment for all forms of congenital heart defects in children.

VCF: What are the new technologies that Vietnamese pediatric cardiologists can apply?

Dr. Culberson:

Diagnosis and planning for surgical interventions in congenital heart defects can improve significantly with Echocardiogram’s new imaging technologies such as 3D, TEE, CT and MRI. The rapid expansion of the significant Catheterization, which means intra-heart interventions, has significantly allowed many more children who previously would have been required open-heart surgeries to get a complete repair. Further improvements in monitoring technologies as well as specific Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit’s organ system driven protocols have allowed a significant decrease in the mortality of children undergoing surgical repair and hospitalization days. Those improvements will continue to produce excellent outcomes.

VCF: What are the roles of international NGOs like VinaCapital Foundation/ Heartbeat Vietnam in helping poor children with congenital heart defects in Vietnam?

Dr. Culbertson:

The role of international NGOs such as the VinaCapital Foundation is critical to helping poor children with congenital heart defects in Vietnam. Specifically, VCF’s Heartbeat Vietnam is critical for funding children living in rural areas of Vietnam. A large number of those children do not have insurance to receive lifesaving heart surgery they otherwise would not receive, as well as screening children in outlying province away from major cardiac centers for congenital heart defects. Other NGO’s are also very important to support the training of Pediatric Cardiologists, Cardiovascular surgeons, and Intensivists in Vietnam and other centers of Asia.

VCF: What can VinaCapital Foundation/ Heartbeat Vietnam do further to promote a community of healthy hearts in Vietnam?

Dr. Culbertson:

Going forward in the future, Heartbeat Vietnam will continue to be a major contributor in screening children for congenital heart defects in rural provinces and increasing the training for more Pediatric Cardiologists and the provision of more imaging equipment, primarily Echocardiogram). I hope the next plan of VCF will include the development of screening programs for fetal cardiac defects in the rural provinces as well as following up on congenital heart defects on adult patients as this group expands in the future.

VCF: Thank you!

Box: Donors Appreciation

Dr. Culbertson’s trip to Vietnam is made possible by GE Healthcare with in-kind supports from Movenpick Hotel Hanoi, Caravelle Hotel Saigon and Fusion Da Nang resort.

Pictures of Doctor Casey Culbertson in his recent trip at City Children’s Hospital in February 2020

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