As pen pals, doctors from around the globe end up teaching each other new tricks |

As pen pals, doctors from around the globe end up teaching each other new tricks

Vietnamese eye doctor Thanh Hai Nguyen, left and Steamboat Springs eye doctor Mark Helm analyze an image of the retina together at Helm's clinic.
Scott Franz

— A Steamboat Springs’ eye doctor’s pen pal relationship with a Vietnamese eye doctor is poised to bring benefits to patients on the other side of the globe.

Vietnamese eye doctor Thanh Hai Nguyen’s friendship and correspondence with Steamboat eye doctor Mark Helm recently led to shipments of new, more modern equipment to Hai’s clinic in Vietnam.

Hai also has had a chance to learn new techniques here in the United States.

By shadowing Helm for a day here last month, Hai said he was able to learn things that aren’t in the old textbooks but in which many eye doctors in his home country are trained.

“Dr. Helm here, he has a lot of experience, and maybe its not in that book” Hai said. “That’s what we learn, and then we learn how to organize a group and how to organize a medical team and how to organize a clinic, and that’s good for us.”

When Helm traveled to Vietnam last year to teach other doctors cataract surgery, he resolved to try and someday host doctors he had met in Vietnam here at his practice.

Last month’s visit from Hai was a fulfillment of that promise.

“That’s the whole idea is to have him exposed to what we have here and what we take for granted, because they just have such limited equipment,” Helm said. “He’s got good equipment already, but nowhere near the type of equipment we take for granted here.”

Helm said he hopes to bring more doctors to his practice from other countries in the future.

Hai returned to Vietnam with some new pupil maintainers, a device that makes it easier to perform cataract surgery.

Helm also rounded up some parts to make a ophthalmoscope for Hai.

“Step by step, we’re getting him equipped,” Helm said.

After visiting Steamboat, Hai and Helm traveled to Las Vegas for the American Academy of Ophthalmology’s annual meeting.

Hai said his visits to the U.S. allow him to learn new techniques, especially in cataract surgery, the most common surgery in ophthalmology.

“When I first came here, I was very surprised. The system is very intelligent — its simple,” Hai said.

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210, email or follow him on Twitter @ScottFranz10

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