Success in Vietnam: Nhi Dong 1 Named Children’s HeartLink Center of Excellence

Published July 18, 2023

A ceremony to celebrate Nhi Dong 1’s designation as a Children’s HeartLink Center of Excellence was held in Ho Chi Minh City on July 18, 2023

We are honored to announce our partner hospital Nhi Dong 1 in Vietnam as a Children’s HeartLink Center of Excellence. Over the past 15 years, Nhi Dong 1 has strived to improve their pediatric cardiac program to consistently deliver high-quality, complex care to children with congenital heart disease. They are the first Children’s HeartLink Center of Excellence in Vietnam and the seventh hospital in the world to earn this designation. 

Nhi Dong 1 is a dedicated children’s hospital that provides services to children of Ho Chi Minh City and southern Vietnam, where two-thirds of the country’s population lives. Since 2008 when our partnership began, the hospital has reached more than 146,000 children with heart disease. The improvements made to their program will have a lasting effect on the care children with heart disease receive in the region and country.

“Nhi Dong 1 and its leadership team have invested in improving their program to grow their capabilities to best serve the children of Vietnam, specifically the southern region,” said Jackie Boucher, president of Children’s HeartLink. “As a sustainable Children’s HeartLink Center of Excellence, Nhi Dong 1 is well positioned to leverage their knowledge and expertise to improve the lives of children with congenital heart disease and the health care professionals who care for them for years to come.” 

Today, there are more cardiologists, surgeons and anesthesiologists who specialize in pediatric cardiac care at Nhi Dong 1 than ever before. This means more children like Phuc can receive the heart care they need to survive and thrive. Her cardiologist and namesake, Dr. Phuc, along with the entire medical team, received training from the Children’s HeartLink partnership that made it possible for them to deliver high-quality care for Phuc’s complex condition when she was two years old. 

Watch the story of young Phuc’s successful heart surgery and hear from her medical team:


Improving and increasing access to heart care for children

Children’s HeartLink and its medical volunteer teams from National University Hospital Singapore, led by Dr. Sriram Shankar, cardiothoracic surgeon, and from Boston Children’s Hospital, led by Dr. Chris Baird, congenital heart surgeon, played a significant and transformative role in supporting the pediatric cardiac care team at Nhi Dong 1. 

“Today, we have a strong pediatric cardiac care team who takes a multidisciplinary approach to caring for children with heart disease,” said Dr. Hao, who leads the pediatric cardiac program at Nhi Dong 1. “Our program has evolved, and we are seeing more children with heart disease and treating children with more complex heart disease.”  

Nhi Dong 1’s former pediatric cardiac unit in 2013.

Nhi Dong 1 is addressing preventable deaths in children with heart disease by improving their program. The team has increased the number of children being served by 83%, and there are more children receiving heart surgery today than there were at the beginning of the partnership.

In fact, the number of children on the wait list at Nhi Dong 1 has gone down dramatically since the beginning of our partnership, from an average of 1,000 waiting up to three years for treatment, down to an average between 90-200 patients waiting only 1-3 months.

Nhi Dong 1’s former pediatric cardiac unit in 2013.

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Children’s HeartLink works with over 20 hospital partners in low-resource environments that provide outstanding cardiac care. They have the desire and potential to reach more children and become a regional leader that specializes in pediatric cardiac care. Our hospital partners are located in Bangladesh, Brazil, China, India, Malaysia and Vietnam. Two of these partnerships are in Vietnam.

We lead multi-year training partnerships that strengthen and expand development in the field of pediatric cardiology. These partnerships wouldn’t be possible without the dedication of our medical volunteer teams, who give of their time, knowledge and expertise to work with their peers to improve their programs. It’s a collaborative partnership that caters to learning by both parties and excellent care for children with heart disease.  

Key milestones for Nhi Dong 1 Center of Excellence designation 

To achieve the Children’s HeartLink Center of Excellence designation, milestones in four key areas must be met: Clinical, Organizational, Teaching and Training and Patient Centered Care.  

Over the years the clinical accomplishments of our partnership with Nhi Dong 1 included these key milestones: 

  • Increasing the volume of patients receiving surgical and catheterization interventions by more than 10,000 between 2009 and 2018 
  • Increasing the complexity of operations and working on more neonatal patients 
  • Applying consistent infection management and seeing a lower surgical mortality rate of about 3% and bacterial sepsis rates decrease from 8% in 2019 to 5% in 2020 
  • Creating a dedicated pediatric cardiac intensive care unit (ICU) 
  • Doubling the number of pediatric cardiac clinicians 
  • Introducing prenatal diagnosis, electrophysiology, CT Scan, MRI and extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) 
  • Mentoring province hospitals across South Vietnam with extensive efforts to teach pediatric cardiology topics, pediatric echocardiograms and catheterization training 
  • Developing a referral network in South Vietnam that enables timely referrals, diagnosis and treatment 

On June 4, 2022, Nhi Dong 1 opened a spacious new Children’s Heart Center equipped with modern equipment to serve pediatric patients. Phase two of the project, the Pediatric Surgery Center and Neonatal Center, opened in May 2023. 

Nhi Dong 1’s new heart center

The cardiac care program occupies five floors in the new building with two catheterization labs, a simulation unit for cardiac training and double the occupancy for children with heart disease.

The need for pediatric cardiac care in Vietnam 

When Children’s HeartLink partnered with Nhi Dong 1 in 2008, it was a return to the country where our work began almost 40 years prior when we flew two children from Vietnam to Minnesota, USA, for heart surgery. While we have transitioned to a more sustainable model which builds local capacity, our commitment to children with congenital heart disease has not changed. 

In Vietnam, it’s estimated that 11,000 babies are born each year with congenital heart disease. In 2016, 2,829 children under the age of five died of the disease. In 2019, 3,000 children with congenital heart disease were on the waiting list for cardiac surgery in Vietnam.  

While we can’t prevent congenital heart disease, we can continue to reach more children through partnerships like we have with Nhi Dong 1 focused on building capacity to help more children, creating patient care pathways and leading advocacy efforts globally. 


About Nhi Dong 1
Children’sHeartLink’s 2008 partnership with Nhi Dong 1 brought our work back to the country where it all began almost 40 years prior. Nhi Dong 1 is a dedicated children’s hospital providing services to children of Ho Chi Minh City and southern Vietnam, where two-thirds of the country’s population lives. With their training partner, Boston Children’s Hospital, Nhi Dong 1 is focusing on enhancing ICU care, nursing educations and advanced surgical techniques, as well as developing echocardiogram capacity and advanced diagnostics. 
About Children’s HeartLink
Children’s HeartLink saves children’s lives by transforming pediatric heart care in underserved parts of the world. The global nonprofit organization (NGO), partners medical volunteers from top teaching and research institutions with doctors, nurses and health care professionals in Bangladesh, Brazil, China, India, Malaysia and Vietnam to develop or improve pediatric cardiac care programs. Since 1969, the organization has reached more than 1.5 million children.