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Teaching, Learning, Healing: Collaboration in Cardiology 

Dr. Mark Duster and Dr. Hok Kimseng share, in their own words, the story of their partnership through HVO.

Dr. Mark Duster: 

My first trip as an HVO volunteer was in 2016 to Angkor Hospital for Children (AHC) in Siem Reap, Cambodia. There, I met a fellow pediatric cardiologist, Dr. Ngeth Pises, who asked me to help him train residents in the care of pediatric cardiology patients. The following year, 2017, Dr. Pises introduced me to Dr. Hok Kimseng, who had recently completed his pediatric residency and had been selected for additional training in the subspecialty of cardiology. Under Dr. Pise’s supervision, and my encouragement, Dr. Kimseng’s skills and expertise flourished. 

Dr. Kimseng had received a scholarship for his medical school training in Vietnam, so he was fluent in the Vietnamese language. I had a friend and colleague in Vietnam who I knew well through ten years of previous volunteer work. Lan Hieu Nguyen, MD, PhD, had been at the beginning of his career when I had first met him, but is now the Director of the Hanoi Medical University and a member of the Vietnam National Assembly. I reached out to Dr. Hieu on Dr. Kimseng’s behalf, and he arranged a six-week advanced training in pediatric echocardiography for Dr. Kimseng in Hanoi. The expenses for this training were covered by an HVO sponsored Wyss Scholarship. Dr. Kimseng’s expertise was recognized, and he was subsequently recruited to bring his skills to another underserved province in Cambodia where he continues to work. 

Meanwhile, I was asked to assist in the care of cardiac patients at Lao Friends Hospital for Children (LFHC) in Luang Prabang, Lao. Through virtual learning and the use of WhatsApp, together we developed skills in performing echocardiograms to diagnose and treat cardiac patients. In the US, this is typically an 18 to 24 month process. After discussions with the medical director at LFHC, we decided that to move to the next level of care we needed in person training. I approached Dr. Kimseng, and he volunteered to help. He took his personal vacation time, I paid his airfare and transportation costs, and LFHC provided him with a stipend for his 10-day visit in May of 2023. 

The fruits of his labors have now been realized. The quality of the echocardiograms and the resulting accuracy of the diagnoses have dramatically improved. For the first time, children from LHFC will have the opportunity to be evaluated for corrective surgery. 

This story exemplifies the old adage of the benefits of volunteers who “train the trainers” or “teach a man to fish.” Mission trips that are brief and offer help to a select group of patients are valuable but, in my opinion, the greatest changes occur while helping local medical leaders to excel and then lead by example in sharing their expertise. 

I feel blessed by my friendships with my dear friends and colleagues, Drs. Hieu, Pises, Kimseng, and the cardiology team at LFHC. 

Dr. Hok Kimseng: 

HVO is a very amazing program that gives you a great opportunity to learn and work with expert, specialist doctors from overseas. Through HVO, I met my mentor, professor Mark Duster, a cardiologist. He is very active. He came to Cambodia and AHC for one month each year between 2017 and 2020 to help me with the subspecialty pediatric cardiology curriculum. With HVO support, I also got a chance to take an echocardiography course in Hanoi, Vietnam.   

We are still keeping up good discussions about difficult congenital heart disease cases. I am very grateful for the opportunity that HVO and Dr. Mark Duster have given me. I have learned a lot from him.  

Last May-June, I went to Laos Friend Hospital for Children in Luang Prabang as a volunteer to share my knowledge and to help a junior colleague with subspecialty cardiology training. Sharing knowledge is a very important part of helping the health care service in every developing country. 

Dr. Mark has taught me many, many things, and is very active in giving me good recommendations for every difficult case discussion. He always replies very quickly. He pushes me a lot in learning. I have been very excited from the first day that I met him. 

Great thanks to the HVO teams and to professor Mark Duster.