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September 20, 2012

Vietnamese-American Doctor Helps Rebuild Bodies, Lives

by Greg Flakus

Plastic surgery is often associated with celebrities getting cosmetic face lifts and other procedures to make them more attractive.  But plastic and reconstructive surgery can also help people who have been disfigured by birth defects, accidents or disease.  There are also cases in which plastic surgery can save a life.

To his patients at the Methodist Hospital of Houston, Doctor Tue Dinh is a miracle worker.

Barbara Martinez came to him for help after surgery to fix a hernia left her with a painful and dangerous hole in her abdomen.

"He could see the pain, I could see the compassion in his face and he said, 'I can help you,'" she said.

She is also impressed with the doctor's modesty.

"I try to tell him 'thank you' and he just says he is doing his job, but… his heart is in it, not just a scalpel in his hand," she said.

Dr. Dinh says the challenge of plastic and reconstructive surgery often involves improvising solutions to life-threatening conditions.

"Plastic surgery not only improves the quality of life of a patient, but sometimes it can save the patient's life," he said.

Dr. Dinh often operates on patients who have been disfigured or medically compromised by accidents or even by other medical procedures.

Today, Dr. Dinh is trying to fix a problem created by surgery at another hospital.

In this case, the patient's spinal cord was left exposed when infected tissue was removed.

Dr. Dinh uses a tissue replacement technique he has used many times to cover life-threatening openings in patients' chests

"We have a procedure to bring a muscle flap to cover the exposed heart and to reconstruct the chest wall, for example, and reconstruct the sternum, and that keeps the heart covered," he said.

Tue Dinh was born in Vietnam and came to the United States with his family in 1975.  But since he left medical school he has returned to his birth country many times with his siblings, who are also doctors/plastic  surgeons to help people there.

"I just have an emotional attachment, my brother and I and my sister, to go back to Vietnam and we try to go back practically every year," he said.

In one well-known case in Vietnam, Dr. Dinh helped this seven-year-old boy, Thien Nhan, who was mutilated by wild animals when he was a baby.

Dr. Dinh says restoring the boy's physical appearance helps him psychologically, as well.

In the near future, Dr. Dinh says, advances in the use of stem cells and other techniques may allow him to do even more for such patients.

“Hopefully, in the near future we can create something that is completely new from the lab and transfer and create. This is an exciting time to be a plastic surgeon," he said.

But for now, Dr. Dinh continues to innovate with traditional techniques to help his grateful patients.