Dr. Ramona Sunderwirth, MD MPH FAAP FAWM

Dr. Ramona volunteered at LFHC for 6 weeks, from January to February 2016. She shares her experiences working with Lao staff and international medical team to treat patients at LFHC with a variety of illnesses.

When the email from the American Academy of Pediatrics arrived, calling for volunteer Pediatric Emergency Physicians at the Laos Friends Hospital for Children in Luang Prabang, I responded. Upon arrival in January 2016, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but was literally far exceeded my expectations.

A tuk tuk (local cab) drove me to the outskirts of lovely Luang Prabang to the Provincial Hospital, around the main building to the brand new Hospital for Children. Beautiful mountains framed the hospital, a large and airy waiting area lead into the bright, cheerful, clean, well organized, supplied and staffed, outpatient clinic, emergency room, and inpatient ward. I was warmly welcomed by Dr. Cheri, the director and all the staff, and immediately put to work!

Days and nights consisted of one-on-one mentoring of eager, talented, young Lao doctors and nurses, case discussions/lectures, and partnered teams – Laos + Expats – for clinical care. The patients were sick, some desperately.  All were welcomed and treated as if one’s own child – the Hospital’s motto – and lives were strengthened and saved. The days were exciting – patients with all garden varieties of infections and illnesses, to severe typhoid fever, meningitis/encephalitis, pneumonias, pyomyositis/ osteomyelitis, malnutrition, Beri beri, Japanese Encephalitis, anemias, cardiac malformations, tropical diseases, and major injuries – the whole field of pediatrics.

LFHC is committed to training and supporting its Laos staff in expert care of children from illness/injury prevention to minor illnesses through life threatening illnesses and trauma. During my stay at the Hospital I observed an exponential growth curve in the medical staff’s ability to handle their patients’ clinical and overall health needs. After every shift I noticed the growing confidence in the team. The expat nurses, doctors, pharmacists, radiologists, laboratory technicians and outreach staff were equally dedicated and outstanding.

Lao Friends Hospital for Children embodies what we all strive for – a commitment to improve and maintain the health of children through sharing knowledge and developing lasting resources. It was my first visit to Laos, but certainly not the last. The Laotian people – the staff at the hospital, our patients’ parents posses a gentleness, a serene, inner strength and resolve that’s apparent even in difficult situations. Their generosity of spirit permeated the working days and nights in a way I’ve never experienced in all my years as a professional pediatrician, in the US and abroad.

Learn more about volunteering at LFHC here.