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THIS IS AMERICA - Visit to a Medical Museum; Plastic Surgeon Makes Healing Trips to Vietnam; Help for Female Veterans

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Autopsy tools from the early 1900's (Photo: NMHM)
Autopsy tools from the early 1900's (Photo: NMHM)

Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I'm Steve Ember.

And I'm June Simms. This week on our program, we tell about a group home designed to help female veterans get a new start. We also learn about a museum that explores the history of medicine in the United States. And later, we hear from a Veitnamese immigrant who is helping improve lives with plastic surgery.

Ozora Cassanova could never have imagined becoming homeless a year ago.

"I was a full-time student. I had a part-time job. I had my military job and I was a wife."

Life changed for the United States National Guard member when she lost her job, separated from her husband, ran out of money and was removed from her home. Luckily, she heard about Final Salute's transitional home for female veterans.

Ms. Cassanova moved into the large, six-bedroom house near Washington six months ago. She says she found more than just a shelter.

"You get assistance with your resume. You could get like a life coach or a mentor. You get a regular financial assistance like supply, household supply, food supply."

That security made it possible for Ozora Cassanova to again work toward her goals. She wants to find a job, go back to school and be on her own. She says living with other women who have also experienced difficult times is valuable.

"From their experiences they'll say 'ok' --- it's like a mentor in a sense, so they help you make wiser decisions as well --- so they say 'ok. I did that and I went through that.' We learn from eachother."

Final Salute permits veterans to live at the house for up to two years. Army National Guard captain Jas Boothe founded the organization. She works with each of the women vets to develop an action plan for learning new skills and successfully moving on.

Veteran Ashley Dyer dreams of becoming a writer and filmmaker. She says Captain Boothe supports and pushes her.

"She cares about me in a way that you would want your mom to or your dad to. I don't have that family support. So she's there expecting me to succeed because she believes that I can succeed. So if I'm not trying to accomplish things, or I'm not trying to reach for my goals, then she lets me know."

For a time, Captain Boothe was one of the thirteen thousand homeless female veterans in America. That experience led her to start Final Salute, dedicated to female veterans' special needs.

"Not all veterans need rehabilitation. Not all of them need strict restructuring programs. Some of them just need a place to stay, but most programs are not built for those that just need to get over a hump."

Over the last two years, the house she purchased for the program has been home to nine women and five children. Jas Boothe wanted it to feel like home.

"When I was looking for a property, I first thought of where would I like me and my children to live? I would love for my children to live in a single family home in a beautiful neighborhood where they can go out and play on the grass and be safe, and their moms can have that weight lifted, knowing that they are in a safe environment. They don't worry about food and clothing where they can truly focus on themselves and how they need to progress."

Final Salute will open another transitional home this November eleventh, Veterans Day. This third Final Salute home is in Alexandria, Virginia.

One of the oldest museums in the United States tells the history of medical technology, including equipment that was used to treat people long ago. The museum also has anatomical collections of bones and preserved human organs. The National Museum of Health and Medicine opened as the Army Medical Museum during the Civil War. Now, it is celebrating its one hundred fiftieth anniversary with a new building for its large collection of rare -- and sometimes frightening -- objects.

Remains of conjoined twins on exhibit at the National Museum of Health and Medicine
Remains of conjoined twins on exhibit at the National Museum of Health and Medicine

​​The remains of conjoined twins are not what you would find in a traditional museum. However, they can be seen at The National Museum of Health and Medicine near Washington. Its aim is to increase the understanding of medicine -- past, present and future.

Visitors can see surgical equipment and microscopes used to discover new diseases from the eighteen sixties.

Jim Curley is the museum's historical collection specialist. He organizes all the artifacts.

"What I find so significant is, any given thing, they each have a very unique and interesting story and that's one of the great opportunities that I have in my job to be able to explore them."

The Museum is especially popular with school children and health care workers. They get a close look at the human body -- like a leg swollen with elephantiasis, an infectious disease found mostly in warm climates.

The museum has twenty-five million objects, including preserved organs and the remains of more than five thousand creatures. Tim Clark is the museum's deputy director.

"This skeleton is of one of our first animal astronauts. Abel was a monkey who flew into space for a very brief period of time in nineteen fifty-nine."

The museum also has objects that have been used for medical research by the United States military. The collection includes the bullet that killed President Abraham Lincoln in eighteen sixty-five. Tim Clark says he tells visitors how the military has aided progress in medicine.

"It became the lessons learned from the battlefield that taught the next generation of physicians and surgeons at the time as science and medicine was evolving rapidly."

The museum also has an area specializing in brain injuries.

"What we have here is a contrecoup injury."

Andrea Schierkolk is the museum's public programs manager.

"This is something we wanted to highlight through actual brain specimens that show these injuries so that people can visually understand what goes on with the brain and how it is changed and why we have these resulting behavior and function problems."

Michael Koser and his family came to see the museum.

"The pathology that I am seeing here is really interesting as far as learning about the human anatomy and some of the issues that can occur from certain injuries."

With the opening of the new building, museum officials say they can continue expanding their collection and educate younger generations.

Plastic surgery is often seen as a medical treat open only to the rich and famous. And it is true that many celebrities get elective surgeries and other treatments to try to improve the way they look.

But plastic and reconstructive surgery can also help people who have been damaged by birth defects, accidents or disease. Plastic surgery sometimes even saves lives.

Plastic surgeon Tue Dinh is a hero to his patients at the Methodist Hospital of Houston, Texasr.

Barbara Martinez sought Dr. Dinh's help after she had an operation to repair a hernia. The surgery left 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 says the doctor also does not ever seem to seek praise.

"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."

Dr. Dinh says plastic and reconstructive surgery often requires creative 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."

A recent case involved a problem created by surgery at another hospital. A patient's spinal cord was left uncovered when infected tissue was removed.

Dr. Dinh fixed the problem by making small changes to a surgery method he had used on past patients. But those cases were of life-threatening openings on the upper front part of their bodies.

"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."

Tue Dinh was born in Vietnam and moved to the United States with his family in nineteen seventy-five. But he has returned to his birth country many times with his brother and sister who are also doctors. They like to help people there.

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

Among those Dr. Dinh is helping in Vietnam is seven-year-old, Thien Nhan. His case is well-known in the country. The boy was severely hurt in an attack by wild animals when he was a baby.

Dr. Dinh is making needed repairs to Thien Nhan's body. But, he says improving the boy's appearance helps him psychologically.

Dr. Dinh says progress in the use of stem cells and other techniques may permit 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."

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