The “golden hands” of Vietnam’s Pediatric Surgery

Dr. Nguyen Thanh Liem, Director of the Vinmec Research Institute of Stem Cell and Gene Technology, is one of two scientists named on the list of the top 100 scientists in Asia 2019 by the Singapore-based Asian Scientist Magazine.

A four-decade career doing extraordinary surgeries

The Asian Scientist Magazine listed Prof. Dr. Nguyen Thanh Liem as an outstanding individual in the field of “Biological Sciences” along with Dr. Nguyen Thi Hiep from Ho Chi Minh City International University. In the achievement summary, the Asian Scientist Magazine listed a series of achievements that Dr Liem has made during his forty-year career.

Dr. Nguyen Thanh Liem was the first surgeon in Vietnam to successfully perform laparoscopic surgery on a child, do a kidney and liver transplantations on children as well as conjoined twin separation surgeries. The most complicated one was the surgery 17 years ago separating the Cuc-An twins, who had been attached to each other from the breastbone to the abdomen since birth. The operation took nearly 10 hours but delivered spectacular results in which all adhesion parts such as the sternum, pericardium, liver, duodenum and small intestine were successfully separated. At that time (2003), Vietnamese newspapers including Vietnam Pictorial followed this miraculous surgery with fervor. The Cuc-An twins now have turned 18 and regard Dr. Liem and his team as benefactors. They sometimes speak of Dr Liem as their “second father”.

Twins Le Thi Thu Cuc and Le Thi Thuy An with their mother on October 15, 2003, 24 hours before their surgery.
The most complicated conjoined twin surgery in Vietnam history and also a rare case in the world. Photo: Le Anh Tuan

… the surgery started at 6.30 am on October 16, 2003. Photo: Le Anh Tuan

Dr. Nguyen Thanh Liem and his team consult during the twins’ surgery. Photo: Le Anh Tuan

Nearly 3 years after the surgery, the Cuc-An twins look at pictures of their miraculous surgery
in Vietnam Pictorial issue 541 on January 2004. Photo: Trong Chinh

Dr. Nguyen Thanh Liem on his trip to Thanh Hoa to visit his two special patients on September 17, 2006. Photo: Trong Chinh

Le Thi Thu Cuc and Le Thi Thuy An with their mother Trinh Thi Binh on September 17, 2016, three years after the surgery. Photo: Trong Chinh

Sixteen years after the surgery, the Cuc-An twins have become women
with impressive height of 168cm (Cuc) and 165cm (An). Photo: Tuoi Tre Newspaper

Besides dedicating his entire career to the well-being of the people, Dr. Liem is also the author of the organ transplantation project cluster that won the Ho Chi Minh Prize in 2005 and the research project cluster on laparoscopic surgeries on children that won the Vietnamese Talents Awards in 2012. These scientific works have paved a new path for Vietnamese surgery and established Vietnamese doctors’ reputation in the global pediatric scene.

In Asia, Dr. Liem is one of the earliest implementers of laparoscopic surgery on children. He invented 9 new techniques that were highly regarded by international medicine. In the field of cyst surgery in the bile duct, he has six research projects and has performed surgery on more than 500 patients. He also has conducted laparoscopic surgery to treat a diaphragmatic hernia for more than 300 people. Dr. Liem was invited to write the chapter on bile duct cysts for pediatric textbooks in the United Kingdom and the United States. He has also been invited to perform surgery in many countries such as Italy, the Netherlands, India, the Philippines and Indonesia. For surgeries such as bone marrow transplantation, pancreatic failure and hemolysis, he was also the first who researched and applied stem cell transplantation at the Vietnam National Children’s Hospital.

In 2018, he became the first doctor of Vietnam to receive the prestigious Nikkei Asia Award for science and technology for his contributions in the field of pediatric laparoscopic and stem cell transplantation.

Dr. Liem has had more than 200 medical research projects with 84 published in prestigious medical journals in the United States and many European countries. He has also co-authored two textbooks on pediatric surgery published in the United States and the United Kingdom and has four books published in Vietnam.

Stem cell transplantation – a milestone project in Vietnamese medicine

Stem cell transplantation is scientific work that Dr. Liem has been dedicated to for many years, since the day he was the Director of the National Children’s Hospital. At that time, he was the first doctor in Vietnam to successfully perform stem cell transplantation to treat pulmonary fibrosis in newborns and defecation disorders in children with cerebrospinal hernia. Dr. Liem and his colleagues also conducted many stem cell transplants to treat diseases such as myelosuppression, myelosuppression due to spinal trauma, knee osteoarthritis and cirrhosis in children…

According to Dr. Liem, it wasn’t until he left the National Children’s Hospital in 2012 that he discovered it was his “ripe” time for scientific research. He continued to invest his enthusiasm and experience in the Vietnamese medical industry, especially in putting the “Stem cell transplantation” project into practice. After becoming Director of VINMEC Hospital, he gradually realized these scientific works would open up innovative treatments for autistic children and children with cerebral palsy. Currently as Director of the Vinmec Research Institute of Stem Cell and Gene Technology, he continues working with his colleagues in treatment and scientific research.

Dr. Nguyen Thanh Liem, has greatly contributed to Vietnam’s medicine
in the field of pediatric surgery, January 2020. Photo: Viet Cuong

Dr. Liem reports the scientific work on hematopoietic stem cell transplantation
at an international conference held in Vietnam. Photo: Files

Dr. Liem received the Nikkei Award for his contribution in the fields of pediatric endoscopic surgery and stem cell transplantation in 2018. Photo: Files

Dr. Liem talks with doctors and medical experts who are interested in cooperating
with Vietnamese medicine at international conferences. Photo: Files

Dr. Liem monitors a stem transplanted patient at VINMEC Hospital. Photo: Viet Cuong

Dr. Liem during surgery for a newborn with an umbilical hernia. Photo: Files

Dr. Liem checks a patient, who just recovered from a stroke. Photo: Viet Cuong

Dr. Liem always supports young surgeons participating in difficult surgeries. Photo: Files

Dr. Liem shares his joy with the father of a child
who is the first to have stem cell transplantation to treat pulmonary fibrosis in Vietnam. Photo: Files

Many children with cerebral palsy have improved and showed intellectual development after his treatment, life-changing miracles as they are called. Stem cell transplantation technology has been expanded by Dr. Liem in treating autism, congenital biliary atrophy in children; and cirrhosis and osteoarthritis in adults.

After his initial success in stem cell transplantation in treating cerebral palsy, Dr. Liem and his colleagues at VINMEC hope to soon be able to officially introduce a more efficient treatment for the disease that is causing the highest disability rate in children and to make VINMEC the most modern stem cell application center in Southeast Asia./.

Dr. Liem was awarded the title of Hero of Labor in the Renovation Period. He has also served as President of the Vietnam Association of Pediatric Surgeons (VAPS), Vice Chairman of the Asian Association of Pediatric Surgeons (AAPS), Member, and co-chair of the Research Committee of the International Pediatric Endosurgery Group (IPEG).

Story: Bich Van – Photos: Viet Cuong & Files