MEET EMMA FROM NEW ZEALAND - A Sports Physiotherapist at Lifestart Foundation

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October 8th 2013
Published: October 22nd 2013
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Every now and then the universe sends us an amazing human being in the form of a volunteer. Of late, this is happening on a very regular basis. We are so fortunate! The Lifestart Foundation organization is truly thankful for these very special people who quite often put their lives on hold, take a huge leap of faith and come over to Vietnam to help us in whatever way is needed.

One of these amazing volunteers is Emma from New Zealand. Emma is a highly skilled Physiotherapist and Acupuncturist who is one of the most positive people you are ever likely to meet. She has endless energy and a heart the size of a water buffalo.

Emma is a partner three very successful Physiotherapy practices in New Zealand, so it's not like she was at a loose end with nothing to do with her life.

She left her businesses in the capable hands of her partners for the three months she planned to volunteer with us in Hoi An. Emma is a Physiotherapist to some of the New Zealand All Blacks and is used to working her magic on elite athletes bodies. All I can say is " what a contrast we were able to provide her with!" and her cohort of Lifestart Foundation patients were no lesser champions...

Emma came for a self funded three month volunteer assignment and managed to do at least six months of work in that time. Her energy and enthusiasm was limitless, her work ethic was amazing and she was "hands on" and added to that,super positive all of the time. As a result of these qualities Emma achieved great outcomes and we will be forever grateful for all that she did for our champions that attend the LSF Free Disability Community Center and our two Outreach projects.

At the end of Emmas volunteering she was able to hand her patients over to newly arrived volunteers Sally, an Occupational Therapist from the UK and Lisa, a Traditional Medicine Practitioner, Acupuncturist and Massage Therapist.

We very much look forward to the day that Emma returns to Hoi An. I have asked Emma to write a blog about her experience volunteering with Lifestart Foundation. Here it is...

"Leaving NZ with an open mind, a suitcase full of rehabilitation equipment, and over 1,000 Acupuncture needles, I embarked on a three month volunteer Physio role with Lifestart Foundation (LSF) in March 2013. After 12 years working as a Sports Physiotherapist all over the world I wasn’t sure of what help I could offer the disabled people of Hoi An…..but I was ready for the challenge!

Flying into Danang on a drizzly, humid night, my first week was LSF initiation with the awesome Sheila, to whom I am forever grateful for her patience and wisdom. Week one was spent mastering the road rules on my trusty two-wheeled stallion, and adjusting my body from a Wellington winter to Hoi An heat and humidity. I was extremely lucky to have a two week cross-over with Alison, a super Australian Physio who had done an incredible job for six months setting up three rehabilitation clinics – Ly Thai To (LTT), Hoi An Shelter (HAS) , and Danang Red Cross (DRC). Days 2-5 are a bit of a blur – getting my head around names, language, and what my profession consists of in this foreign land – but the stand out memory unfortunately was having to jump off a moving bus (with my wingman Sheila) on the way back from the Danang clinic, thanks to a nasty migraine.

Under the guidance of Karen, Alison, and Sang, I slowly learnt the Vietnamese system (and the frustrations of Western Medicine in a developing country), and got to work on how I could use my skill set to help improve function and reduce pain in people with a variety of complex disabilities. These disabilities across the three clinics included:- Polio, Stroke, Amputees, Cerebral Palsy, Agent Orange Neurological conditions/deformities, and burns. I began “hands-on” Physio treatment firstly at the Ly Thai To Street clinic. This treatment consisted of spinal mobilisation, passive stretching, muscle release, massage, Traditional Chinese Acupuncture, as well as the continuation of Alison’s individualised rehabilitation programmes. Sang was my amazing translator and Physio assistant who would go way out of her way to help any of the patients – this lady seriously has a heart the size of a watermelon!

It is a privilege in any country to be in a profession where I physically touch people. There is something very special about the power of touch and the bond you then form with your patients, and strangely enough my treatment from an elite athlete to a person with a disability doesn’t differ much. The ultimate goal is always to improve mobility and reduce pain or stress on the body to improve quality of life of the individual. So after the success of first three weeks of treatment at LTT, I began Acupuncture and “hands on” treatment for a number of the amazing residents at HAS.

There were a number of professional challenges for me on a daily basis in the first few weeks. Things you take for granted in the “first world”, such as accessibility to a sharps container to dispose of used needles, basic communication and understanding of general medicine and past medical history, and information being interpreted correctly when getting equipment made for patients. Many times there was a need for BIG deep breaths!

From April the weather continued to heat up, and I formed closer, sweatier friendships with my LSF colleagues and patients. I also began to get increasingly more patients at all clinics and the positive results from the Physiotherapy treatment started to really show through. I felt my patients and the other significant people in their lives further started to trust us and appreciate the difference that LSF was trying to make.

My parents arrived in May to reluctantly visit their free-spirited youngest daughter, and they were joined later by my crazy Aussie aunty and uncle (thank goodness they came as I had run out of Acupuncture needles and needed many more Physio supplies!!! Thank you very much to all of my friends, family and NZ patients for their generous donations!). Karen encouraged they all visit the clinic to understand the work I had been doing, and to meet the incredible individuals I had been working with. It was a huge privilege for my family to visit. That morning will go down in history of one of the best in my life. I was overwhelmed and reduced to tears by the love that was shown to my family by everyone.

I could write a separate blog on every person I treated at Lifestart Foundation. Each amazing individual has had to overcome the most incredible challenges which face disabled people in the third world. There is heaviness in my heart when I picture their faces and remember their stories, but I know they are in the good hands of the Lifestart Foundation."

Interested in Volunteering?

Arm yourself with as much information as possible about your host organisation, read their website thoroughly and I would suggest that you read this blog on International Volunteering .

Have a look at current LSF Volunteer blogs and stay connected with weekly happenings at our Wordpress site.

For those of you who are little techno challenged like myself if you click on any of the words in blue it will automatically link you into that subject. Don't forget to have a look at our new website and find out how you too can support us from anywhere in the world.

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If you happen to be in Hoi An, Viet Nam, visit us at:

77 Phan Chau Trinh Street,
Hoi An

Lots of Love from Karen


Learn more about International Volunteering

A New Project for Lifestart Foundation

Update from Lifestart Foundation Free Disability Centre

Meet Carmen from Germany

Meet Sahar from the UK

Meet Robbie and Al from Australia

Meet Sahar from the UK

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Meet Trisha from New Zealand

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