The man who introduced Professor Fred Hollows to eye health in Vietnam has spoken about the late surgeon’s urgency to get things done, whilst battling cancer on his first visit to Vietnam in 1992.

Commemorating 20 years of The Foundation’s work in Vietnam, Professor Nguyten Trong Nhan, Chair of the Vietnamese National Ophthalmology Association and former Minister for Health, said he believed this urgency drove Fred to achieve so much for his country prior to his death in early 1993.

“Everyone could sense the enthusiasm and straightforwardness of Professor Fred Hollows. Some nights, Professor felt wearied, and was afraid that he might pass away any time.”

"He called other members in his team to have some last words to them, making them promise to continue their efforts in helping Vietnamese ophthalmology even when he was not there."

Professor Nhan also told the audience in Da Nang about Fred’s special relationship with the great Vietnamese General Vo Nguyen Giap – who Fred very much admired and was thrilled to meet on his first visit to Vietnam.

“At the meeting, Professor Hollows did not say a word about his illness, but he mentioned that this would be his first and last visit to Vietnam.”

“General Giap understood the implication, yet he asserted, “I do believe Professor that you will be back in Vietnam again.”

True to General Giap’s prediction, Fred did return just a few months later to begin training Vietnamese surgeons in modern cataract surgery techniques.

“This time, I saw that he had tracheal intubation, his voice was lower, yet he still kept his enthusiasm in every activity,” Professor Nhan said.

“When meeting General Giap for the second time, the General said ‘Professor, you have come back to Vietnam as expected!’"

Professor Nhan said that over the past 20 years, as promised, Fred Hollows’ work has continued through his Foundation and through the strong support of the Australian people. But he ended his address by honoring the man who used the final months of his own life to help people in a foreign land.

“On the occasion of celebrating 20 years of The Fred Hollows Foundation working in Vietnam, we always remember Professor Fred Hollows, the true friend of Vietnamese people.”

Over the past 20 years, The Fred Hollows Foundation has made a major contribution to eye health in Vietnam. The Foundation’s initial training of 322 Vietnamese ophthalmologists – training that Fred himself began – has helped lift the number of modern cataract surgeries performed from 1,000 to 200,000 per year. From 2002 to 2009 alone, The Foundation provided more than 96,000 eye operations and trained more than 7,000 eye health workers.

 > Find out more about our work in Vietnam.

Read more about Giap's story here.