2003 Epilogue: Bruce Lehnert

Mission Peace 2003 was our smoothest and most successful mission to date. Vietnam is, at best, a difficult country with which to establish clear and efficient communication. The Mission Peace team has finally crossed that bridge with our Vietnamese counterparts. In fact, we did not have a translator the first three days, yet we managed to see more than 50 patients and operate on 8. I feel like our Vietnamese team members have become our brothers.

One of the highlights of the mission was seeing and examining patients who underwent operations in 2000 and 2002.  There is a certain anxiety about leaving people for whom we have performed major operations for one year. That anxiety builds until we see them the following year. Being less than an optimist I always assume the worst.

Every year, including this one,I have been more than pleased with the technical outcome of the procedures.Our complication rate has been amazingly low, and more important, the satisfaction of our patients has been high. Seeing people whose lives have changed because of our help is at the heart of practicing medicine. Some of our patients lived on the fringe of society because of their deformities. To see them walk without crutches and assume a new level of confidence and function is truly amazing. It is what keeps me coming back again and again.

As our skill level of treating the Mekong people develops, we have a better understanding of our patient’s cultural and physical needs. It has been professionally fulfilling to see our team grow in its breadth of skills and abilities. Our technical capacity has also grown due to the generous donations of power equipment and fixation devices. Because the MP team acquired more instrumentation we were able to run two operating rooms at the same time.

Another highlight of the mission was the addition of my fellowship mentor Dr. Meir Nyska. I have always looked to him as a source of inspiration and knowledge and regard him as my foot-and-ankle surgery mentor. It was special to have him see, first hand, how I have turned out and to work side by side with him again.

My wife joined us for a second tour of duty this year. Jenni has carved out a niche as our team's surgical nurse. She efficiently runs the operating room and irons out all the wrinkles that inevitably develop in any operating theater setting. I am proud that the team finds her invaluable.

In addition to Dr. Nyska and my wife, I had the benefit of another family member joining us this year--my Dad. Poppa, as he likes to be called, was a wonderful addition to our team. He was our backup man and in charge of taking surgical and clinical photographs, troubleshooting our equipment failures, and helping with the humanitarian portion of the mission. He was the one team member who was universally loved by all.

I am already thinking about MP2004. The more I go,  the more I want to go again.