Nguyen Thi Dieu Huyen, MD, MSc: Children Are Not Miniature Adults

“This is my calling” says Nguyen Thi Dieu Huyen, MD, MSc, Head of the Paediatrics & Neonatology Department at FV Hospital, describing her decision to stand side by side with the ‘young warriors’ she cares for.

Nestled modestly at the door of FV’s Paediatric Ward is a small board adorned with handwritten letters from young patients and their loved ones. Though simple and unassuming, this is a “treasure” cherished by doctors and nurses of FV’s Paediatrics & Neonatology Department. These heartfelt messages also serve as a dose of spiritual medicine for the department head, aiding her in tirelessly persevering on her journey to save the lives of thousands of young patients.

I joined FV Hospital because it offered rare medications and techniques so I can save more children.

“Looking back three decades, the young medical student Nguyen Thi Dieu Huyen never imagined she would devote her youth to standing alongside these ‘little warriors’ in hospital beds,” said the department head, as she began her story.

For Dr Huyen, every profession holds its unique tales, but medicine is more extraordinary as its tales are intertwined with many human lives. It’s for this reason that, from a young age, imbued with the spirit of the profession by her father who worked as a nurse, young Dieu Huyen was determined to wear the doctor’s white coat.

She was passionate about practicing medicine but in the early years of her career, never envisioned herself pursuing a specialty. A major turning point came in 1994 when Dr Huyen was selected to participate in a 13-month training programme as a paediatric resident at Jean Verdier Hospital in France.

This programme was historically significant as it coincided with the opening-up policies of the new Vietnamese government and was unprecedented in terms of its medical training and selection of resident paediatric doctors abroad.

The journey opened new horizons for Dr Huyen, driving her to tirelessly absorb new techniques of advanced medical science, nurturing dreams of one day personally saving the lives of innumerable Vietnamese children.

Upon returning home after the training programme, Dr Huyen became one of the key figures at Children’s Hospital 2 in Ho Chi Minh City. As a resident physician, she completed the practical programme in the Intensive Care Unit and Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Robert Debré Hospital, France, in 1999, laying the groundwork for her professional development. Dr Huyen was ready to take on the role of Deputy Head of the Intensive Care Unit at Children’s Hospital 2 from 2000.

“At the beginning of my role, the techniques and models I learned in France couldn’t always be applied in Vietnam, mostly due to limitations in access to techniques, medications, and equipment,” the doctor confides.

I searched many places but couldn’t find the medication; I was very disappointed. Then, I took a chance and called the Paediatrics & Neonatology Department at FV Hospital, and my plea was answered.

Nguyen Thi Dieu Huyen, MD, MSc, Head of the Paediatrics & Neonatology Department at FV Hospital

Even though decades have passed, Dr Huyen still feels emotional when recalling the journey of saving these “little warriors” during a time when the Vietnamese medical field was still lacking.

Etched in her memory is the story of a baby born at 27 weeks weighing barely over 1 kg. As an experienced neonatologist trained extensively in France, she knew that administering surfactant into the lungs was crucial to helping immature lungs expand better. This medication played a vital role in improving respiratory distress and reducing potential complications. However, she recalls wondering at the time, “Where could I find such a precious medication when this technique wasn’t widely available in Vietnam?”

“I searched many places but couldn’t find the medication; I was very disappointed. Then, I took a chance and called the Paediatrics & Neonatology Department at FV Hospital, and my plea was answered. A dose of the expensive medication was immediately sent over that day, saving the life of the premature baby struggling in the ward at Children’s Hospital 2. Moreover, FV Hospital even offered to send someone to perform the procedure, but when they learned I could do it, they trusted me and sent the medication,” Dr Huyen recounts.

Dr Huyen thought the story would end with her accepting this precious resource. She never imagined it would be the starting point for a new chapter in her career until 2005, when she was invited to work at the Paediatrics & Neonatology Department at FV Hospital.

“Upon receiving the invitation, I was quite surprised. I took time to visit and learn about FV Hospital. I was very impressed by the facilities and equipment which were similar to those in the medical units where I trained in France. Particularly, the fact that the hospital’s Obstetrics & Gynaecology and Paediatrics & Neonatology departments were under the same roof were ideal for providing continuous care for mothers and babies before, during, and after childbirth. “FV was also the first hospital in Vietnam to have transport vehicles for premature infants equipped with incubators and ventilators. At that moment, I felt a strong desire to access and implement new techniques at FV — a place with a solid foundation in both infrastructure and human resources. I chose to stand alongside FV Hospital precisely for this reason,” the doctor recalls.

The effort to nurture dreams at FV

Before joining FV, Nguyen Thi Dieu Huyen, MD, MSc, had many ideas about implementing the new techniques, treatment protocols, and advanced healthcare models she had learned abroad in Vietnam. One of them was the well-child check-up model commonly practiced in healthcare facilities overseas.

“When I presented the well-child check-up model, which prescribes comprehensive health monitoring for children during hospital visits, the hospital management and the previous department head immediately agreed to introduce it. The advantage of this model is that children presenting as healthy who are brought in for vaccinations also undergo comprehensive checks for their physical health, mental well-being, and psychosocial development according to their age. This enables doctors to detect early health or psychological issues such as hyperactivity, autism, and depression, and enables physicians to provide early intervention. As of now, FV is one of the pioneering healthcare centres in Vietnam implementing this model and trusted by parents for their children’s routine visits as well as specialist care,” Dr Huyen shares.

The Paediatrics & Neonatology Department has been developed as one of FV Hospital’s leading specialties since inception, featuring modern infrastructure and a team of leading experts from both domestic and international backgrounds.

These experts have collaborated to apply many advanced treatment techniques from around the world at FV. The hospital is a trusted destination in the southern region of Vietnam for treating retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) in severely affected premature infants, a condition which requires surgical removal of the entire vitreous humour to salvage the patient’s vision.

“FV has team of skilled experts, including an excellent anaesthesia team, with the necessary modern equipment to perform surgeries on very low birth weight infants, defined as babies delivered weighing under 1.5 kg. Before each scheduled high-risk surgery, multidisciplinary specialists will consult, plan, and prepare for every treatment stage. They also continue to consult during and after the operation. This ensures the success rate of surgeries is always guaranteed,” says Dr Huyen.

As a specific example, the doctor mentions a successful surgery performed at FV Hospital for a premature infant born at 26 weeks with retinopathy of prematurity. The baby developed lung fibrosis after 2.5 months of continuous mechanical ventilation while receiving treatment at a provincial hospital.

“On the day of discharge, the baby – who was previously dependent on continuous oxygen therapy 24/7—no longer needed it, full-time. We felt very happy with our decision. We were determined to perform the surgery at any cost to preserve the child’s vision,” explains Dr Huyen.

Guiding us on a visit to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), Dr Huyen confides that caring for newborns is inherently challenging, and becomes even more difficult in premature cases due to their weaker immune systems and susceptibility to multiple diseases.

FV has established special care standards for these “little warriors” in the NICU. The NICU is equipped with state-of-the-art equipment such as specialist ventilators, continuous monitoring devices, automatic infusion pumps, and advanced fluid infusion systems, as well as incubators, phototherapy units, and neonatal jaundice treatment lights. Using this advanced equipment, the NICU’s team of highly skilled medical staff meticulously monitors the condition of each infant every minute of the day.

With these advanced resources, FV can treat premature infants with multiple illnesses requiring specialist care necessitating collaboration across multiple specialties.

For many years, FV has provided treatment for numerous paediatric patients from countries with developed healthcare systems such as the United States, France, the United Kingdom, Germany, Switzerland, Australia, and Canada. Every member of FV’s team of doctors and medical staff is proficient in English communication and the team includes experienced medical interpreters fluent in languages such as Russian and Japanese. Due to minimal language barriers, the proportion of foreign paediatric patients treated at FV accounts for up to 30% of all paediatric patients.

Dr Huyen: a torchbearer who loves the medical profession and cares deeply for children.

Over her two decades of dedication to FV, Nguyen Thi Dieu Huyen, MD, MSc has spent many hours writing emotional letters about her experiences caring for children. Looking back on her journey, the department head rarely notes the struggles posed by the day-to-day responsibilities of her profession. Instead, her mind is filled with beautiful memories. One of the precious “assets” of those invested in the healing profession is the heartfelt letters, poems, and words of thanks that patients and their families dedicate to her.

“A mentor once taught me that children are not miniature adults. We cannot apply the same care and treatment to children as we do to adults. The specificity of this field is that many paediatric patients do not know how to describe their symptoms, so doctors must perform meticulous diagnostic procedures on their small bodies, requiring patience. Alongside that, there needs to be a sense of responsibility, observational skills, and understanding of parents and caregivers, all of whom play a crucial role in disclosing symptoms,” emphasises Dr Huyen.

During internal training sessions and case discussions, this department head always reminds young doctors, “never doubt the intuition of a mother.” This is the first sign to correctly diagnose the illness and prescribe the right medication for the child.

Dr Nguyen Thi Dieu Huyen’s wholehearted dedication to children and her continuous effort to propose initiatives to elevate FV’s Paediatrics & Neonatology Department have earned her the admiration and appreciation of many colleagues. Her passion and hard work are deeply respected.

Ms Doan Thi Kim Ngan, the Paediatric Coordinator at FV Hospital, says Dr Huyen is a shining example for the young and talented generation of doctors at the hospital, always ready to tackle challenging cases and tirelessly monitoring paediatric patients.

Similarly, among the seasoned nursing staff, Ms Vu Thi Lan Huong, Head Nurse of the Paediatrics Ward at FV Hospital, has also expressed her admiration and fondness for dear colleague. Together, they have worked closely to successfully manage difficult cases, demonstrating their mutual respect and camaraderie.

“Dr Huyen always listens and understands the difficulties faced by the nursing team to provide timely support. The establishment of a standardised antibiotic infusion chart by the head of the department, detailing the concentration and duration of infusion, has contributed to standardising the nursing team’s work and improving the quality of patient care and treatment,” Ms Huong shared.

“I am very reassured knowing that the Paediatrics & Neonatology Department has a talented group of young doctors ready to shoulder responsibilities in the future.”

Nguyen Thi Dieu Huyen, MD, MSc, Head of the Paediatrics & Neonatology Department at FV Hospital

Dedicated and deeply connected to the paediatric patients, Dr Huyen is humble when speaking about herself. However, when it comes to the next generation of doctors whom she has nurtured, her eyes gleam with pride.

“I am very reassured knowing that the Paediatrics & Neonatology Department has a talented group of young doctors ready to shoulder responsibilities in the future. Two of my many successors have just completed their postgraduate specialty training in neonatology. I also regularly organise internal training sessions for doctors and nurses to ensure continuous improvement of knowledge and application of advanced techniques,” Dr Huyen added.

After three decades devoted to medicine, from her early days as a graduate doctor to current role as a highly respected department head, Dr Huyen’s love and compassion for the little “warriors” she treats has endured.

She loves spending time with her grandchildren, but rather than pursue a path to enjoy leisurely hours with family, Dr Huyen remains fervent in her professional journey to save paediatric patients at the door of life.

With a twinkle in her eyes, Dr Huyen concludes her story with a humble dream: “I still feel the same emotions when welcoming these fragile lives into the world, experiencing the joy of motherhood with the women who deliver them. My passion for this profession still burns strong, but I am preparing to step back so that the next generation has more opportunities to develop. With this mindset, I will continue to fulfil my duties, in whatever circumstances or positions.”

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