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Art that heals: Fairchild Hall exhibit features relics of Vietnam
Dr. Carl Bartecchi talks to guests about his photos from Vietnam during a reception Aug. 16, 2011, at the Air Force Academy's Permanent Professors Art Gallery. The gallery currently houses an exhibit displaying photos, artwork and items collected by Bartecchi, the author of "A Doctor's Vietnam Journal," during his multiple trips to Vietnam. (U.S. Air Force photo/Bill Evans)
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Art that heals: Fairchild Hall exhibit features relics of Vietnam

Posted 8/22/2011   Updated 8/22/2011 Email story   Print story


by David Edwards
Academy Spirit staff writer

8/22/2011 - U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- Medicine is sometimes referred to as the healing arts. People walking through Fairchild Hall in the next few weeks may gain a more full appreciation of both components of that term.

Dr. Carl Bartecchi unveiled his exhibit, "Curing, Caring, and Healing: Vietnam Then and Now," at the Permanent Professors' Art Gallery on Fairchild Hall's third floor Tuesday.
The exhibit features the photography of Bartecchi, a former Army flight surgeon in Vietnam who later founded the Bach Mai Hospital Project. Bartecchi has also authored two books about his experiences bringing Western medicine to the people of Vietnam.

Cadets can buy Bartecchi's latest book, "A Doctor's Vietnam Journal," at a deep discount, and all the money from those sales will go directly to the hospital project.
Pam Aloisa, the gallery curator, introduced Bartecchi at the exhibit reception. Dean of the Faculty Brig. Gen. Dana Born and several Academy instructors attended, and Aloisa urged them to tell their cadets about the exhibit or bring them by the gallery to see it.

Aloisa said that many years ago she had displayed Bartecchi's Vietnamese landscape photography.

"I thought, 'I've got to show the work that portrays the medical side of what Carl did in Vietnam,'" she said.

The photographs are a rogues' gallery of Vietnamese life. One shows a boy riding on a water buffalo. Others show facets of day-to-day existence: boats, food vendors, people crowded in a hut during a rainstorm.

In addition to the framed photographs, the exhibit also houses an assortment of artifacts that Bartecchi collected during his travels in Vietnam. Among the most interesting of those are a set of cupping glasses, which are a common folk remedy in various parts of the world. The cupping glasses in the exhibit were used by Vietnamese villagers who had no conventional medical care.

A few steps from the cupping glasses, a rice-cutting knife and a pear-shaped lute share a display case. The distinctive-looking knife was given to Bartecchi by a rice farmer after he successfully treated the pneumonia afflicting the farmer's son.

The lifesaving work Bartecchi did for villagers during the Vietnam War left a profound impression on him. His genuine appreciation for the people led him to return as a visiting professor of critical-care medicine in 1997.

Twice a year for the past five years, he's teamed with doctors from the Mayo Clinic to offer symposiums for Vietnamese medical personnel. The project is supported by the St. Anthony's Hospital Foundation in Denver and funded by Englewood-based Catholic Health Initiatives.

Bach Mai, the hospital at the core of Bartecchi's undertaking, was the site of an accidental bombing by American forces during the Vietnam War. Several people inside were killed. He said that on returning he asked the hospital staff if there was any lingering animosity from what Americans had done there decades ago.

They responded with an emphatic no and added that they had long ago put the past behind them. They also said that the Vietnamese have dealt with all sorts of foreigners over recent decades, most notably the French and the Chinese.

Bartecchi summed up the prevailing attitude among the Vietnamese people he's met: "Our future is with the Americans. We like Americans. We want your medicine; we want your economics. We want (access to) everything that you've got, because you do it right."

The Vietnamese eagerness to let bygones be bygones has led to a marked improvement in their access to health care. And the ongoing effort led by Bartecchi continues to make a difference.

As part of his project, Vietnamese physicians are brought to the United States for six to 12 months. They receive intensive training from American medical professionals. When they return to Vietnam, the government sends them out so the people in outlying provinces can avail themselves of the opportunity for treatment.

Venomous snakes abound in Vietnam, and snakebites are a common problem. One section of the exhibit vividly illustrates this fact. Bartecchi said that if a snake bites someone on the finger and the distance to the nearest hospital is great, usually people will cut off the victim's finger. "We saw a lot of people with (fewer) than five fingers," he said.

The snake venom generally constricts breathing ability, so hospitalized victims are hooked up to a ventilator. But the makeshift ventilators Bartecchi and his colleagues saw in the Vietnamese hospitals prompted an upgrade. Since 1997, Bartecchi's team has delivered new ventilators as well as plenty of even more basic equipment.

"If you saw the beds over there, some of them are no better than what you're sitting on right now," Bartecchi said. "It's easy to take for granted beds that rise and lower. The Air Force has been really fantastic in helping us with this program."

For more information about Carl Bartecchi's efforts to improve health care in Vietnam, go to http://www.bachmaihospitalproject.org.

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