Extract from interview with Helen Frizzell, 12 June 2009
Reproduced with permission of George Gordon
You got involved with helping amputees.
Now how did that come about?
Well, I suddenly realised that we had a lot of amputees lying around the hospital. People who had lost limbs through motor accidents, war injuries or, or I ‘spose just disease. And, and, they, they were just increasing around the hospital. I'd see more and more people limping on a crutch with one leg, or, or with one arm or, or losing one of each, or whatever. And, then it occurred to me that not only were they there, but their families were there. They hadn't gone back to the village or from whence they'd come. And it suddenly occurred to me that they were just going to keep building up here.
And so, through Mr [Vu Van] Suu, I said, ‘is there any prosethic services here, any artificial limb?' And he said, ‘no'. So, I said, ‘are there any in Vietnam?' And he said, ‘yes, the rehab at Saigon'. So, using John Clark at the [NZ] Embassy we made contact with the Rehabilitation Centre – the Artificial Limb Centre as we call them in New Zealand, or did. And, so I, I went down to Saigon and went and spoke to them. And spoke about the amputees we had, and the types of amputees, and that they were just building up around the hospital and could we get some service.
Well, I think you could imagine there were a lot of civilian amputees building up in Vietnam at the time. And, I could tell straight away, they didn't want us to be sending large numbers of these people down because once they got their limbs and became ambulant and functional again, where were they going to go? And who was going to make sure they went?
So, when we saw this difficulty we reached some agreement with the authorities there and pointed out if we could bring some down, then as each one was released, then could we come down and pick that person up and bring a replacement. And so on that understanding that there would be a turnover and they wouldn't be left with then having to rehabilitate, in the, in the life sense, the amputees, we managed to get some down.
So, I remember hiring an aircraft – I think the first lot we took down was four or five. And I remember these, all these amputees hobbling and one way and another, we all got onto this light aircraft of Air America, a new experience for them. And, away we went down. And, and then got the call from the embassy that a couple were ready to come back. So, went down and picked these two up, took a couple back.
But they'd come back and they'd stay round the hospital for a while, because they were showing everyone their new arm or their new leg. And, and they'd always come around and see me everyday. And I was quite chuffed by how happy they were. But I was not satisfied until I got them off the premises. And that really is back to their village with their families and getting on with their lives.
So did that work carry on while you were there?
Absolutely, yes, and I think after I left. And the interesting thing now is that, is that, the – there is a Rehabilitation Hospital in Vietnam, and it's supported by the, by our work on the New Zealand VietNam Health Trust and its quite a, it's quite a busy and efficient rehabilitation hospital.
Vietnam War Oral History Project, Manatu Taonga Ministry for Culture & Heritage