Lack of access to healthcare in Cambodia is a major issue because there are less than two medical doctors per 10,000 people. In addition, extreme poverty prohibits women from seeking prenatal care and that is why the stillbirth rate is four times higher than the U.S. Phalla Heng grew up in Kampong Thom. In September 2007 Zoe Ryan, Melissa’s global impact partner, met Phalla at a hotel in Siem Reap. Phalla was a housekeeper and Zoe later decided to make Phalla’s dream of being a doctor come true by paying for her medical school. Since she was a child, Phalla had wanted to help poor people, especially poor young pregnant women. She was determined to be the first female gynecologist in her district so that women could see her without embarrassment or fear. In July 2016, Phalla’s dream came true when she graduated from the International University School of Medicine in Phnom Penh. In May 2019 Melissa joined Zoe in Cambodia where they assessed the conditions, experienced Cambodian culture with Dr. Heng and her family, and toured the maternity ward at Stoung Referral Hospital where Dr. Heng works. Melissa and Zoe also networked with local artists and architects because they want to make another dream of Dr. Heng’s come true – to open a women’s clinic in her village with the help of Raquel Albrecht (Seattle designer).
Following her education and training, Dr. Heng’s wish has come true. She now delivers over 10 babies per week, where she meets the mothers for the first time when they go into labor. Dr. Heng also manages several complicated gynecological issues such as postpartum hemorrhage, preeclampsia, and vaginal pain conditions (due to multiple sex partners, sexual transmitted infections, and poor hygiene). Dr. Heng has addressed many unmet health needs in her Cambodian village, but they are difficult to treat due to a lack of resources and equipment. This includes management of preterm deliveries, Pap smear screening, treatment for cervical cancer, blood transfusions, and counseling for postpartum depression. Dr. Heng also recognizes barriers within her Cambodian culture, where most women are impatient and they wait to seek treatment until the issue becomes emergent. When a woman finally seeks treatment, she wants something that will heal her quickly such as an injection or a strong pill, but the woman is often lost due to a lack of follow-up. This story continues. Soon Dr. Heng will come to Nebraska and live with Melissa’s family so she can expand her knowledge in obstetrics and gynecology. The end goal will offer preventive, comprehensive care and improve health outcomes for the women in rural Cambodia.
“My own mother delivered all six of her children at home. When I think of the dangers and difficulties, it inspires me all the more to devote myself to my profession.” -Dr. Phalla Heng