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Penny receives Vietnam's highest health honor

In 2007, The Cardiovascular Institute in Hue City Central Hospital opened its doors as a result of a collaborative effort of a team from the Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne, Australia, involving Penny and the local Hue City leadership. The team worked to secure funding to develop the center and an educational program to train new and existing health care workers.

"I first visited Central Vietnam in 2002 to give a lecture," said Penny, who was chief of cardiology The Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne, Australia, at the time. "It became clear that this region did not have a proper center to provide the level of care that children and adults with heart disease in the area needed."

Hue City is the capital city of the Thua Thien - Hue province, Vietnam, and has a population of 950,000.

Critical need answered

Penny noted the critical need for interventional cardiovascular procedures such as open heart surgery and cardiac catherizations. "It was devastating to see that hundreds of children in need of these single, life-saving diagnostic and therapeutic procedures had no access to them." 

With generous support from the Atlantic Philanthropies to develop the new center, Penny compiled a team to begin training the physicians, nurses and other workers who would work at the center. Overall, they trained more than 100 hospital staff, Penny said. 

"The educational and training aspect of this project was very critical," said Penny "We couldn't just help them build a building; we needed to develop the skills of our Vietnamese colleagues to continue providing the best care, so that they can in turn teach others and grow in their health care providing capacity for their community." 

"What's amazing to me now is the way in which the local leadership in Hue are developing programs to improve the care of patients with heart disease to other areas in Southeast Asia," said Penny. 

In 2009, the center performed more than 700 open heart surgeries, mostly in children, compared to less than 100 performed in 2000. Approximately 900 cardiac catheterization procedures were performed in 2009 when less than 200 were performed in 2000. 

"What's great is that these procedures are not done by visiting physicians, but by Vietnamese doctors and nurses who were trained through this program," said Penny.

Cited for innovation

"Quite simply, Dan Penny is one of the most creative and innovative pediatric cardiologists on the planet," said Dr. Mark Kline, chair of pediatrics at BCM and physician-in-chief at Texas Children's Hospital. "The application of his talents to the creation of this heart center in Vietnam literally has saved the lives of thousands of Vietnamese men, women and children."

Penny said he has made about 20 trips to Hue City since 2002. His most recent was in June 2011 to accept "For the People's Health" medal. Dr. Bui Duc Phu, director of Hue City Central Hospital and member of The Vietnamese Parliament, presented Penny with the medal.

Penny hopes the success of the Hue Cardiovascular Center can motivate other organizations who have the resources to get involved in this important work.

Taking the next step

"One of the great privileges of my career has been the opportunity to work in leading hospitals which are committed to improve the health and well-being of children and families, no matter where they live. Any children's hospital which has a vision to be great must be committed to working on a global scale," said Penny. "The Royal Children's Hospital, through Royal Children's International made this commitment. I believe that Baylor and Texas Children's are poised to take this commitment to an unprecedented level. This is a major reason why I chose to come here." 

Penny joined BCM and Texas Children's Hospital in September 2010. He is head of the section of pediatrics – cardiology at BCM and chief of pediatric cardiology at Texas Children's Hospital. 

Past award winners include Dr. Nicole Smith, epidemiologist of the World Health Organisation in Vietnam, for her contributions to influenza pandemic prevention and control, and Dr. Lisa J. Messersmith, former director of the Vietnam AIDS Policy and Planning Project, for her contributions to improving responses to human rights and equality of people living with and affected by HIV/AIDS.