American expat volunteer physiotherapist is saving lives in Vietnam

Published:  14 Jul at 6 PM
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An American woman who sold her home 10 years ago and came to Vietnam to volunteer as a fully qualified and experienced physiotherapist has now been celebrated in a local TV documentary.

Virginia Lockett and her artist husband David first came to Vietnam 22 years ago to adopt two children, and were saddened by the plight of the disabled in the country. Returning for a short volunteer stint in 2005, the couple saw the improvements in medical care for the disabled, but realised some of the foreign-organised assistance programmes were failing due to minimal oversight by foreign-based directors.

Determined to help, they gave up their jobs, sold their home and moved to Vietnam. On arrival, the Locketts founded the non-profit Steady Footsteps organisation in the hope of changing Vietnamese physiotherapy as it was being offered to stroke victims. Virginia’s 40 years of experience in the sector and her determination to prevent head injuries also led her to volunteer at the Da Nang Traditional Medicine Hospital.

The first thing she did was to purchase 3,400 motorcycle helmets and distribute them to employees in the city’s medical sector in the hope that head injuries caused by road accidents would decrease. She has worked full-time for the hospital for seven years now, working with motorcycle accident victims who’ve suffered traumatic head injuries or strokes.

Her therapy focuses on functional activities and uses visual demonstrations and eye contact, all of which help sufferers respond to their brain damage. For those who have physical defects such as difficulty in walking, regular practice of everyday movements proves effective, and patients’ families are encouraged to get involved in the rehabilitation programme. Virginia has rehabilitated some 3,000 patients over the past three years as well as training a good number of new therapists.

The hospital’s director told the programme she has changed the practice of her speciality in a significant manner, bringing more patients to the hospital and increasing its prestige within Vietnam’s medical community. She’s very proud of her department and her trainees, who are achieving great results with their patients. One young man, who became a quadriplegic following an accident, was encouraged to paint by her artist husband and has become a well-known artist whose paintings are sold worldwide.
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