Deep in the jungles of South Vietnam in ’62, amidst the rumble of a growing conflict, Dr. Eleanor Ardel Vietti selflessly toiled, driven by a relentless dedication to her cause.

Known by many as Ardel, this American doctor wasn’t there to fight a war but to wage a different kind of battle – one against a debilitating disease that ravaged Montagnard communities.

Ardel’s dedication wasn’t without peril, as, unfortunately, in 1962, she became the first American female prisoner of war (POW) in Vietnam. Even today, her fate – and that of her two fellow captives – remains a haunting mystery.

A Calling to Heal: Dr. Vietti and the Ban Me Thuot Leprosarium

Born in Fort Worth, Texas, in 1927 alongside her twin sister Teresa J. Vietti, a shared interest in science and medicine blossomed between them early on.

However, their childhood took an unexpected turn when a severe strep infection struck Ardel in Colombia, forcing surgery back in Texas. This setback not only delayed her schooling but also fostered a stronger connection to her faith.

Driven by a powerful calling, Ardel eventually joined the Christian and Missionary Alliance in 1957.

Her mission: the Ban Me Thuot Leprosarium, a medical center nestled within Vietnam’s tiger-infested jungles.

Here, leprosy cast a long shadow, with infection rates reaching a staggering 30 percent among the Montagnard people. These indigenous communities, referred to as “mountain people” by the French colonists, had borne the brunt of the disease for generations.