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Dr. Mueller's introduction to Asia was a two-year tour in Seoul, Korea, as a US Army general, thoracic and vascular surgeon. The 4077th MASH unit was still active and ready for combat.
Through an unexpected meeting with leaders of the Karen hill tribe from Burma, Dr. Mueller learned of the brutal ethnic cleansing campaign directed against minority hill tribe members that resulted in over a million internally displaced persons inside Burma and refugees seeking safety in Thailand. The Karens were desperate for any assistance as their cause had been all but ignored by the world. Many were Christian and spoke English well.
The Karen's only hospital, located due west of Chiang Mai on the Thai Burmese border, was in desperate need of the medical supplies that Dr. Mueller had brought. The Karens offered him an escorted trip there.
The two-day journey to the remote border required a pickup truck ride through scenic tropical forested mountains without paved roads or tourists.
The Salween and Moei Rivers defined the international boundary. The Karen headquarters and hospital were a three-hour boat ride south.
Traditional Thai long-tail boats flew down the river like speedboats with huge rooster tail wakes and no mufflers.
All available space was usually put to use on the river boat buses, while the open air seating allowed a continuous fresh breeze and dazzling scenery eliminated any cramped feelings.
Karen village homes were simple: bamboo framing, floors, and walls with a waterproof thatched-leaf roof. Chickens were ubiquitous in established villages.
Final destination, the Karen National Liberation Army's Hospital, Htoo Wah Loo, Kawthoolei, Burma, serving both Karen soldiers wounded while defending their homeland along with sick and injured civilians.
The hospital was well organized with a competent nursing staff that made the most of limited medicines and supplies.
The single operating room had a rusted nonadjustable OR table and fishing line for suture. Visits and resupply by fully trained Western surgeons were rare, and the few local surgeons operated at better equipped urban hospitals. Dr. Mueller quickly realized that much suffering could be alleviated with simple modern surgery. Apparently, only a few foreign physicians but no major international medical aid groups had adopted or even shown an ongoing interest in helping the Karens to resupply and update their only hospital.
Since the early 1960's, the Burmese Army had been attempting to annihilate or enslave the minority hill tribes like the Karens, enabling the exploitation and environmental destruction of their virgin-forested mountainous homelands. Unfortunately for the Burmese Army, the hill tribes formed armies and fought back.
Once their villages were attacked, destroyed and seeded with landmines, the now homeless surviving Karens streamed toward the border in search of either a more secure location to rebuild their village or a Thai refugee camp across the border.
Given his background, training and experience, Dr. Mueller recognized a unique opportunity to help the desperate Karens. With his wife's support, he set out on what proved to be a 25 year odyssey.
Over the next several years, Dr. Mueller returned annually and upgraded the Karen's operating room in many ways while performing major operations and teaching the Karen medics new techniques.
Despite desperate circumstances, the Karens were happy, clean and well groomed. The meals were delicious and Dr. Mueller never became ill after eating their food.
Dr. Mueller participated in delivering shipped-in donated clothing from local churches in California to recent victims of Burmese Army attacks.
Unfortunately, the Karen's hospital and most of the Karen's land eventually fell to the Burmese Army. Unable to walk away from the Karens in their darkest hour, with neither a hospital or operating room available to perform surgery, Dr. Mueller instead focused on training Karen medics.
Dr. Mueller has been a magician since childhood and brought this nonverbal form of entertainment to the Karens wherever he found them. Most had no access to TV or movies nor had ever seen live professional magic before.
Although their hospital was gone, landmine victims still required lifesaving operations performed in poorly equipped jungle huts.
Dr. Mueller also saw these unlucky patients and became determined to establish another surgery program for the Karens in a safe location.
The surgery ward was a single room open air facility where the patients' families slept under the wooden beds.
Initial success of the new surgery program motivated a NGO donor group to rebuild and enlarge the structure.
A new OR was constructed and all the basic equipment and supplies necessary for safe and effective surgery was gathered by Dr. Mueller. Within a short period, Dr. Mueller was performing 20-30 major operations during his annual three-week trip and his trained medics operated on hundreds more annually with less complicated problems during his absence.
Access to a reasonably modern operating room allowed Dr. Mueller to help hundreds of patients with similar tumors.
This man had his head tumor for thirty years, with no choice but to watch and feel it grow until he met Dr. Mueller.
Dr. Mueller's extensive surgical background allowed him to comfortably and effectively operate on challenging cases like this patient.
This unfortunate lady had no choice but to feel her tumor grow since she was a teenager as no Burmese surgeon offered to help her.
For Dr. Mueller and his now experienced team, helping this unfortunate woman required just another routine operation.
The wound was closed with no visible sutures employing modern dissolving sutures and a specialized technique, leaving only a thin line for a scar that became waterproof within two days.
Although the cameraman missed the patient's smile, she was grateful and delighted with the results and the chance to now live with her tumor gone and her lower back normal for the first time ever in her adult life.
This grandmother suffered a venomous snakebite to her right arm resulting in gangrene up to her elbow. Having heard about Dr. Mueller and the Mae Tao Clinic, she travelled for five weeks with her son and granddaughter to the border. The day after Dr. Mueller amputated her arm, the severe continuous pain was gone. The cute little girl was always there to help with a smile.
Dr. Mueller performed many magic shows to audiences ranging in size from three to three hundred. Most of the refugees had never seen real magic before and the delight and amazement that shone on their faces was priceless.
This Karen woman's village was attacked by the Burmese Army two weeks earlier. Successfully escaping enslavement or death and after a week on the run, the surviving villagers chose a hide site in the deep jungle. Within a week, all were sleeping off the dirt on elevated bamboo lean-tos and dry thanks to thatched leaf roofs. Dr. Mueller smiled at her and she, happy to be alive and safe with her daughter, returned the gesture as she cooked dinner.
As seen in the preceding photo, most jungle cooking is done over open flame fires. This unfortunate girl got too close and her clothes caught fire resulting in severe burns that Dr. Mueller was successfully able to treat with skin grafts.
Like this young patient, over the years Dr. Mueller operated on hundreds of boys and men with symptomatic groin hernias. His operation eliminated the mass and its accompanying symptoms including chronic pain and the risk of potential life-threatening complications. From the perspective of a seasoned surgeon, Dr. Mueller explains in easily understandable layman's terms his successful approaches in remote settings to many patients with problems treatable with major surgery. Dr. Mueller also shares with his readers the emotional and spiritual journeys that accompany the mission of caring for and helping the Lord to heal the least of His brethren.