Highland Park plastic surgeon Dr. Alvin Glasgold has applied his skills pro bono in the past, but nothing was like the “amazing experience” he had in a far-off land in October.
Working out of antiquated operating rooms in a hospital in Ho Chi Minh City (the former Saigon), Glasgold and a team repaired cleft palates and facial disfigurements and performed nasal surgeries on some 30 Vietnamese patients.
He was part of a “face to face” delegation that traveled to Vietnam through the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. It was the first time he went overseas on a philanthropic mission.
“I’m sorry I didn’t do it sooner,” said Glasgold. “I really felt like I was doing a great service.”
The academy sponsors trips to Third World countries “to teach procedures to doctors as well as to perform surgery on patients,” said Glasgold. His team worked out of the ENT (ear, nose, and throat) Hospital in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam’s largest city.
The experience gave him and his wife, Joyce, an opportunity to tour a country that played a significant role in American history, as well as neighboring Cambodia. As an Air Force veteran who served during the Vietnam War — though not in Vietnam — Glasgold was especially interested in touring the country’s war museum and the infamous “Hanoi Hilton,” where American POWs were held captive.
“I was really delighted to see Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City,” said Glasgold. “There was some poverty, but also a lot of building going on and some very modern structures. However, once you got out of the cities, there was a lot of poverty. Some people live without electricity, no plumbing, no fresh water.
“But the Vietnamese are becoming very educated and it’s becoming a thriving country.”
That situation was in sharp contrast to Cambodia, where in the 1970s, the Khmer Rouge regime killed millions, including many of the country’s intellectuals. The country is “not coming out of the Third World any time soon,” said Glasgold.
Despite the fraught history, the Vietnamese “really like Americans,” said Glasgold. “They sort of feel Americans got dragged into the war and got stuck.”
The team of six physicians on the mission was led by Dr. John Hodges, a Tennessee plastic surgeon who travels to Vietnam two or three times a year. Teams of Vietnamese medical personnel observed him operate and lecture.
“The equipment in the operating room was pretty ancient, especially for someone like me whose specialty is nasal surgery,” said Glasgold. “Had I known that beforehand, I would have brought along my own equipment, which is what some of the doctors who had been there before knew to do.”
Each year Hodges brings one Vietnamese doctor back to the States to study with him as a fellow and spend a few days with each of the physicians on the mission.
The current fellow, Dr. Thuong Nguyen, arrived in New Jersey on Dec. 19 to spend much of the week with Glasgold. After spending the next morning watching Glasgold perform a “face rejuvenation” and chin implant at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, Nguyen and Glasgold spoke with NJJN at the River Road practice Glasgold operates with his sons, Robert and Mark.
“It has been a fantastic trip so far,” said Nguyen. “I can go study and am learning a lot from the doctors who are masters. I am able to also see and learn a lot about the U.S., which is very huge country.”
Nguyen arrived in Highland Park on the eve of Hanukka and had already picked up a little Jewish culture. “He will be with us tonight when we light the candles, which should be an interesting experience for him,” said Glasgold. “Today at lunch he had his very first bagel.”
Nguyen quickly responded, “Yes, I get to learn about the kosher.”
Glasgold, a longtime member of Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple in New Brunswick, is former campaign chair for the Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County. Joyce Glasgold is former campaign chair for its Women’s Division.
Both doctors explained there is now a large demand for rhinoplasties among the Vietnamese, who want noses that reflect a Western ideal of beauty. Such surgery is easily done by inserting a plastic implant, which, Glasgold said “is not so great for the nose.”
Instead, he had demonstrated for Nguyen how by using cartilage from other areas of the patient’s body, such as the ear, the same results could be safely achieved.
“The demand for beauty is high,” said Nguyen. “I think it is good to study and become educated so I can bring back the best to my patients.”