Judi Gieske, a retired pediatrician, had just wrapped up a talk on vaccination and public health at a school in Ho Chi Minh City in October 2018 when attendee Vinh Nguyenquoc ran up to her.

“Bác sī,” he said, using the Vietnamese word for doctor, “I have a problem.” Nguyenquoc asked for 10 minutes of Dr. Gieske’s time.

Nguyenquoc’s daughter, 11-year-old Nguyen Tram Anh, has Marfan syndrome, a rare genetic connective tissue disorder. She developed scoliosis, a common complication of the disease, and needed surgery.

The family consulted physicians in Thailand, Singapore and California. Nguyenquoc also contacted the U.S.-based Marfan Foundation, which recommended Paul Sponseller, chief of Johns Hopkins’ Division of Pediatric Orthopaedics and a top expert in treating the condition.

Dr. Gieske had referred many patients to the world-renowned Dr. Sponseller, so she texted him right away. Dr. Sponseller responded within 15 minutes that he and his team could help Anh. He spent time over the next few days talking with the family and invited them to visit him at Johns Hopkins for a consultation.

The family planned a visit for July 2019, after school ended. At Johns Hopkins Medicine International, we recognize that planning to receive medical treatment overseas can be stressful. Isabel Boyd, one of our care coordinators, helped arrange the family’s consultation trip — reserving transportation, scheduling appointments, and evaluating medical coverage and payment options — and did everything she could to make their visit as smooth as possible.

Then, in October, Anh and her family returned to Johns Hopkins for scoliosis surgery. Dr. Sponseller performed a spinal fusion to straighten Anh’s spine using a system of metal implants to hold the spine in place. She had excellent results, and Dr. Sponseller continues to monitor her progress long-distance with X-rays and photographs of her spine.

Nguyenquoc says his daughter is recovering very well. She was mobile just two days after surgery and now walks outside every day — an incredible outcome for a young woman with so many new opportunities to come.

A version of this story first appeared in Leader, a magazine that connects the leaders of the world with Johns Hopkins Medicine, a global leader in medicine.

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