The doctor who lives by giving

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Dr. Tran Doan Dao visits a patient at Cho Ray Hospital, Ho Chi Minh City

While Vietnam's health sector has developed a reputation for rampant corruption and poor patient care, one 56-year-old doctor in Ho Chi Minh City tries to give patients much as he can.

At first, Dr. Tran Doan Dao, chief of Cho Ray Hospital's Department of Burns, rejected several interview requests. 

But he agreed recently because he thought an article would help people know more about the department, and therefore his poor patients would have more chances to receive help from the generosity of others.

"I simply want to heal the physical pains of patients and bring them back to real human life," said the doctor, when asked why he has unofficially raised funds for poor patients at his department for over ten years. 

Dao said when he first started working at Cho Ray in 1991, he realized one thing: most patients with critical burns are poor.

Burn treatment fees, which can cost up to over VND100 million (US$4,800), are just too expensive for people who earn a living doing odd jobs and can hardly make ends meet, he said.

He explained how heartwrenching his early time at the hospital was, when he would meet patients daily who could not afford meals, or families who would come to him in tears and ask for earlier discharges due to financial difficulties.

Then about a decade ago, Dao attended a party a few of his wealthy friends threw. 

Dao said that after listening to stories about his patients, one of the friends told him: "Whenever there is a poor patient in need of help at the department, just call me."

After that, ten other friends also offered to help, and over years the the number of sponsors has increased. Some of them even offered help without being contacted, Dao said.

He said that a businesswoman who was very successful in the sector of cattle feed was treated for slight burns at the hospital a while back. Before being discharged, she asked Dao to call her whenever a poor patient needed help.

Perhaps during her treatment, she had seen the heart-rending circumstances of poor patients around her, he said.

For happiness

Asked why he shared such great sympathy with the poor, Dao said it was in his blood since he was a child.

In fact, he was born into a poor family with nine children in the central province of Quang Nam. Not only his family, but the whole neighborhood was poor as well. Because of poverty, his family could not afford treatment fees when his grandfather fell sick and finally died, Dao said.

By helping other people understand how important supporting poor patients is, the doctor has been able to help more and more people for ten years.

He said that about three years ago, a woman from the central town of Nha Trang who was taking care of her heavily burned husband came to meet him in tears.

"Please let my husband be discharged, because my family has no more money for treatment," she said.

Knowing that the husband would die if he didn't receive proper treatment, Dao asked them to stay and promised to contact sponsors to help them.

Later when the husband recovered and was dischared, the woman came to meet Dao again. She kneeled in front of him and kept bowing despite him urging her to stand up.

"You are my family's benefactor, because you saved my husband. My family and I owe you for this whole life," the woman said.

Dao said he could never forget what the woman did that day, as it made him realize just how personally significant his help was, not only to a man, but also to the happiness of a whole family.

The doctor often gives financial aid out of his own pocket, but what some appreciate most is his words of encouragement.

Pham Thi Be Hai, a 23-year-old patient from the Mekong Delta province of Tra Vinh, said every time Dao visits her for checks-up, he always encourages her to continue her treatment to live well and healthily in order to raise her child.

"My family is poor. This is the first time I've been hospitalized and I am unexpectedly lucky to meet such a good doctor," said the woman who is suffering from burns all over her body caused by an oil lamp.

The doctor also promised to raise VND15 million ($720) for her treatment, Hai said.

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