Committed to victims of Agent Orange for 19 years

The team of Green Cross Switzerland met Dr. Daniel Hueskes and his son Benjamin Hueskes. The two orthopaedists gave insights into their voluntary activities: provision of orthopaedic aids and surgical treatment for children and young adults with disabilities.

Prior to his first journey to Vietnam in 2003, Daniel Hueskes asked his son: «Benjamin, what do you think? Should I do that? » He answered: «Yes, but then you have to give up your holidays. » This is how 19 years ago the cooperation with Green Cross Switzerland began.

Great emphasis was placed on the sustainability of the orthopaedic projects. Based on the experience on a different project, where 30 children were provided with orthoses, only to discover upon the follow-up that none of the aids were on the children’s legs anymore, Daniel Hueskes said to himself in the year 2003:

«No, never again! I want to involve local orthopaedists or orthopaedic doctors, and that the provision is carried out with materials from Vietnam. It is not sufficient to simply use highly technical material. Help for self-help needs to be promoted».

It is important to renew children’s orthoses and prostheses after one year because of children’s rapid growth. «When the person who made the prosthesis is already on site, then they can complete the prosthesis accordingly and make a new cast», says Daniel Hueskes.

Benjamin Hueskes adds: «That is of course the whole point: training the people in Vietnam in such a way so that they can do the fitting themselves, even when we aren’t there. This has already been done before. We just offer support and conduct training. We don’t take stuff from Switzerland. It doesn’t work that way that they request us to make casts and we bring them there. No, we do it together on-site. We support and advise them, but in principle they can do it themselves».

For the most part, the required orthoses and prostheses are produced in Vietnam. This is important because various factors, such as humidity, must be considered. Only in exceptional cases, the Basel-based orthopaedists bring something to Vietnam. Currently they are preparing for a fitting for a young woman. She has no shinbone and  the bones are shortened (verkürzte Knochen). Without a prosthesis she walks on her joint. During the Corona pandemic, she received prostheses, which, however, are very heavy, weighing 3.5 kg. For the first time, she managed to get a job and is happy to lead a self-determined life. Yet, she always has to wear these heavy prostheses at work. In this particular case, two prosthetic foot fittings (Prothesenfüsse-Passteile) will be brought from Switzerland. They are at least one and a half kilos lighter, which will make the young women’s life much easier.

«I wanted to know whether he wanted to live»

Over the course of their voluntary work, Daniel und Benjamin Hueskes have met many people with difficult fates. We asked whether there was a case among the people whom they have met so far in Vietnam, which they remember particularly vividly. “Yes,” Daniel Hueskes answered with deep emotion.

What is Agent Orange?

Agent Orange is a chemical defoliant contaminated with a highly toxic dioxin TCDD. The name comes from the orange stripes, with which the barrels were marked. The American Air Force sprayed a total of 45’677’837 litres between 1962 and 1971, to defoliate the jungle and thus gain a strategic advantage in the Vietnam war. The toxic TCDD persists in the environment for a very long time and can still be found in the soil, water and thus in the nutrition cycle. The toxin causes heritable genetic mutations, deformities and other severe diseases.

Dr. Daniel Hueskes

Already in the 1960s, when thalidomide-related deformities started to surge, Daniel Hueskes had developed and built pioneering orthopaedic aids for children with deformed or missing limbs.

The use of the sleeping pill and tranquilliser, thalidomide, led to a surge of severe deformities and missing limbs and organs in newborns.

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