In a world full of challenges and inequalities, there are those who are passionate about making positive change, even if that means travelling over 7,300 miles across the globe! Dr. Angelina Loo is a compassionate and skilled orthodontist and Corus partner from Vancouver, Canada. With over 25 years of experience, a heart full of empathy, and a strong desire to transform lives, she regularly embarks on mission trips to provide essential care to children with facial clefting.
In August 2022, Dr. Loo joined the Corus network in an effort to seek additional support for her practice. She previously worked alongside Dr. Paul Helpard, CEO of Corus Orthodontists, as members of the BC Children’s Hospital Cleft and Craniofacial Team. They bonded over their shared passion of helping children in need and it was this partnership that led to Dr. Loo eventually joining Corus and was attracted to the network’s strong sense of community.
The Mission Begins: Setting off for Ho Chi Minh City
Dr. Loo has devoted many years of her life to the research and treatment of children with cleft and craniofacial differences. It’s a passion that grew from her experiences as an intern at SickKids Hospital in Toronto where she was introduced to cleft care. A mission program was already established at the B.C. Children’s Hospital and Dr. Loo was ready to get involved. She first packed her bags in 2019 and traveled to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, where she worked at the National Hospital of Odonto-Stomatology (NHOS) alongside colleagues from the B.C. Children’s Hospital. The city boasts over 9 million people and treats approximately 400 newborns with cleft lip and palate each year. According to NHOS’ primary plastic surgeon, Dr. Hai, around 1 in 840 children are born with a facial cleft which can significantly impact their oral health, speech and social development, and overall life trajectory in Vietnam.
The NHOS hospital in Ho Chi Minh City serves as a beacon of hope for children seeking treatment. With every mission trip, Dr. Loo and her colleagues from around the world are focused on three goals: building a strong foundation by ensuring the facilities are up and running, educating and training local doctors on treatment plans and techniques, and providing guidance on complex patient cases. Every trip is a different experience as the team focuses on what’s most needed at the time and is based on the progress that’s been made since their last visit. Each year that Dr. Loo returns, she not only sees the improvements in the hospital itself but the continuity in training and education that is passed down to the next generation of doctors.
Putting Infants and Youth First
The treatment of infants is kept top of mind for Dr. Loo on each trip. By training orthodontists to perform presurgical orthopedic therapies for the cleft newborns, they set the stage for primary surgeries and further treatments when they’re older with a higher success rate. This allows patients to lead healthier lives, and improve their speech and dental health while minimizing the need for extensive procedures in the future.
Without a doubt, the most heartwarming aspect of her mission trips is witnessing the progress of the local doctors’ growth and commitment for the benefit of the children affected with facial clefting in their home community. Witnessing the efficiency and effectiveness of the treatments provided, Dr. Loo experiences a sense of joy akin to a mother’s pride. It all reinforces her dedication to the ongoing care and well-being of these special children.
“Treating children with facial clefting extends beyond physical health, Dr. Loo says. “In societies where facial differences are stigmatized, children with cleft lip and palate often face ostracism and discrimination, particularly young girls.”
She recalls one young patient with big dreams of becoming a teacher but was born with a hole in the roof of her mouth that limited her ability to speak and perform basic functions like eating. Despite having dedicated parents at her side, they struggle financially to support the treatments she desperately needs. This young girl’s positive energy is nothing short of inspiring as she’s appreciative of any care she receives, and no barrier seems to stop this little girl in pursuit of making her dreams come true. Driven by the overwhelming spirit and energy of this young girl, Dr. Loo hopes to see her again this year and create a new plate to provide some temporary relief as she continues to grow.
A Lesson in Collaboration
Mission trips are not just one-way endeavors. While providing essential care and training to those in Vietnam, Dr. Loo also learns valuable lessons from local practitioners and the technology they’re using. Working within the confines of limited resources has inspired innovative approaches and solutions that Dr. Loo has been able to implement back home in Canada. This mutual exchange of knowledge and collaboration has the power to transform healthcare practices on a global scale.
“Educating people and helping others in the community is a really gratifying thing for me to do,” says Dr. Loo. “I feel very privileged to have been given the opportunity to practice in Canada and it’s important that I continue helping those outside of my home country where those opportunities are not as common.”
The Endless Pursuit of Giving Back
This is but a small chapter in Dr. Loo’s volunteerism journey and is not even close to being done. She is also the founder of the SpringforKidsBC Foundation, fundraising for children with facial differences in BC and overseas. With plans to return to Vietnam later this year, she eagerly awaits the opportunity to continue her life-changing work alongside brilliant colleagues from all over the world. Dr. Loo’s mission trips exemplify the power of humanitarian work and the transformation it can bring to the lives of children with facial clefting. Her commitment to serving those in need is a shining example of the profound impact you can have in creating a better world, one smile at a time.