Mercer on Mission: Vietnam

As a high school student who is interested in majoring in biomedical engineering in college, I know the significance of hands-on learning experiences very well. Thus, I spend a lot of time researching various engineering programs throughout the country, as well as the work of notable figures in this field.

I came across Dr. Ha Van Vo's work while researching various humanitarian biomedical engineering projects. Dr. Vo is a practicing medical doctor and professor at Mercer University's biomedical engineering department in Macon, Georgia. As not only a brilliant engineer, but a Vietnam native, Dr. Vo has made tremendous efforts to give back to his homeland. Every summer, he takes a team of engineering students from Mercer University with him to Vietnam, where they outfit amputees with a universal prosthetic of his own design.

So the question is, why Vietnam? Little is known about it in the States, aside from a war that ended more than forty years ago. Yet, the war's physical and emotional remnants still are very much prevalent in Vietnam. Each year, more than 2,000 Vietnamese are injured by exploding land mines left behind by the war. It is estimated that there are more than 100,000 amputees living in Vietnam, many of which are unable to afford prosthetics and sometimes go without them their whole lives. The lack of proper prosthetics severely inhibits the lives of amputees, not only limiting their freedoms, but preventing their ability to hold steady jobs and provide for their families.

I reached out to Dr. Vo a couple of months ago to tell him how much his work inspires me. I told him how interested I was in what he was doing and how much I would love to do something like it in the future. Typically, this program is only for college students, so I was completely (but VERY pleasantly) surprised when Dr. Vo emailed me back, asking me if I would like to come along on the trip with him and his team, where I will be able to communicate with patients and aid the other engineers.

Naturally, because I am not formally affiliated with Mercer University, the costs of my trip this summer, such as travel, food, and lodging, will not be covered by the school. Dr. Vo was very clear that if I wanted to come along on this three-week long trip, I would need to fundraise on my own.  Additionally, a portion of these funds will go toward offsetting the cost of transportation for patients to and from the clinic. As such, I started this GoFundMe to raise money for my trip this summer, which will take place from May 29 to June 20.  In order to ensure that I make all my travel arrangements in a timely manner, I plan on receiving all donations by April 2018.

Aside from the biomedical engineering aspect of this trip, having the opportunity to help the people of a country that is so near and dear to my heart is something of incalculable value. Both of my parents emigrated from Vietnam to the U.S. because of the Vietnam War. In the summer of 2015, I had the pleasure of visiting Vietnam, where I was able to be fully immersed in the vibrant and diverse culture of my people. I love everything about Vietnam. I love the food, the language, and the land. But most of all, I admire the unbelievable resilience and quiet strength of Vietnamese people. They have been able to survive despite unimaginable adversity. I cannot be prouder of anything in my life than being Vietnamese.

This trip means so much to me, more than I will ever be able to express in words. I want to be a biomedical engineer because of projects like this.

No matter how small, I would be so grateful for any help and support. Thank you very much for reading my story.


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Organizer and beneficiary

Sabrina Sy 
Monterey Park, CA
Phu Sy 
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