Following in Fred Hollows' footsteps

Dr Son Huynh at Liverpool Eye Surgery | Since 2003, staff at Cabramatta organisation AHHA have performed more than 6900 free cataract operations in many  areas of Vietnam and Cambodia. Picture: Simon Bennett

Dr Son Huynh at Liverpool Eye Surgery | Since 2003, staff at Cabramatta organisation AHHA have performed more than 6900 free cataract operations in many areas of Vietnam and Cambodia. Picture: Simon Bennett

Dr Son Huynh is an ophthalmologist at Liverpool Eye Surgery and every year he travels overseas to perform life-changing cataract surgeries for the disadvantaged.

Last weekend he left for Cambodia for the second time, with his son, 15, as part of a group of 80 volunteers from the Cabramatta-based Australian Health Humanitarian Aid.

They will be there for a week, which will include challenging back-to-back operations.

The surgeon, 43, was born in Vietnam and came to Australia at 10. He knew he wanted to work in the medical field since 15.

“From a young age, I knew I was good with my hands - I had steady hands and paid attention to detail. I think later on that impacted my decision to choose a surgical field. Even though medicine was difficult to get into, I reached for the top,” he said.

“Once I got into medicine, the person who impressed me the most was Fred Hollows and the impact he was having on the lives of people through simple cataract operations,” he said.

“That pushed me towards ophthalmology and there was also a group called Christian Blind Mission International. I knew they were making a big difference through restoring sight as well. Being a Christian, I was inspired through that group and wanted to do something similar.”

It wasn’t long until he found out about Australian Health Humanitarian Aid and their work in Vietnam. He said he felt compelled to do something for those who weren’t so lucky and born in the same country.

“I felt an urging to be involved somehow and to help those people because I was fortunate in many ways. I haven’t been exposed to hardship like them – I wanted to give something back.”

Despite the intensity of last year’s field trip, he said he was looking forward to this one. 

“The cataracts are quite difficult to operate on and you feel a degree of anxiety when you’re trying to give people the best outcome possible.

“The standards you apply in surgery over here are the same over there. At the end of the day you feel a sense of relief, especially when patients turn around and thank you. It does make you feel you’ve had an impact in their lives. 

“There’s contrast between our lives and their’s. For those people, being able to see again makes a difference to their families’ survival – that’s why I do it.”

The Vietnamese-born ophthalmologist said he thought the trip would be a good opportunity for his son, who’ll be helping.

“One of my goals is for my son to experience what life is like for disadvantaged people in Cambodia and so, hopefully, he realises how fortunate we are.

“It’ll be good for him to learn by helping people.”

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