Tuesday, October 31, 2006

An Emotional Day

Today was amazing! Wow! Everyone agreed it was a day like no other. So many of the foreign foster homes are here at the moment with their kids, Tim from PHF, Amanda from Xi’an, and Jeff from Guizhou. Many of our team commented that it was really inspiring to be able to meet so many people in one place who have dedicated their lives to helping orphans.

Because of the news reports that aired yesterday, we had some local parents come to us today looking for help. One family made their way in from rural Anhui because of the TV footage. They had a BEAUTIFUL baby girl born 40 days ago. Because the TV show said that we were providing surgeries for orphans, they at first said they had found her on the side of the road. The love they had for the baby was so obvious, however, and they finally admitted that she was their daughter and they could not afford the surgery. They were hoping that our team could help them. Although this thriving baby was too young for the operation we were able to give her a good physical exam and some cleft care instruction by Patti Kellett, our LWB Medical Cleft coordinator. Baby Ling at first was confused by her new special Mead Johnson cleft bottle, but after a few tries she sucked away and was very well satisfied! How we wish every orphanage was able to have these cleft bottles for their kids. These bottles are just so important to children with cleft who have difficulties feeding. She will be referred back to Anhui Children’s hospital when she is old enough for surgery. I can’t tell you how wonderful it was to see her in the arms of her Mama, with such a bright future.

Another family came to our team with hope in their hearts because their daughter was born with severe heart disease. They told our team that they had tried to have a child for ten years, and when she was born so blue, they decided to keep her no matter what and work hard to heal her. Even after working and borrowing and begging from family and friends, they still only have half of the funds needed to heal their daughter’s heart. We are arranging for her to have a full evaluation and will make sure that one way or another she is given the gift of life.

15 children were discharged today and 25 registered, and that was all by 9.30 am!! Boy did we need coffee! Now don’t think the accounts and registration department had nothing more to do for the day, as that was just phase one. Then they had to pay for the travel expenses of the Ayis - a process that really does take time. These registration volunteers rarely get time to go out to ward and play with the kids. They have to appreciate them as they are logged in and then in the collective photos of the great photographers on team. One of our volunteers fell absolutely in love with a little boy from Amanda’s home in Xi’An. Little Gabriel was putting his arms out for her to hold him, and was just so content to be cuddled. He got very sleepy waiting for surgery today and there were just no open beds to be found, so the volunteer went and grabbed a suitcase that we had brought supplies in and lined it with diapers. Within moments little Gabriel was fast asleep in the suitcase, and the volunteer was thinking she could just carry him home to the US that way!

Our Foster Care Director Arlene Howard was so excited to see the children from Lu’An with cleft issues arrive today as this is an LWB foster program and she knows all the children well. They were equally excited when they saw her, with lots of Ni haos and shaking hands and friendship. A couple of her children were here to have additional exams done. We had one scary moment when a five year old child was taken for her CT scan and collapsed. Thankfully the wonderful docs were there to help her and initial results show that she might have epilepsy. We will be following up on her completely and will make sure she gets any treatment needed.

Another little boy who came for cleft surgery was found to have a very weak leg due to a past polio infection. Following his cleft surgery, we plan to keep him at Anhui Children’s for a month of intensive PT. We are just so grateful to all of our medical staff who are making sure that each and every child receives a thorough exam.

We also want to mention that all of the caregivers on this trip have been outstanding. One team member wrote the following:

“The Kaifeng foster parents are so very impressive with their love for the children. I can tell that they showed genuine concern for the little ones. They interact with the children, smile at them, make eye contact, stroke their head, carry them all over. Then there is the lovely lady who is fostering the little girl from Guilin. This child has been in foster care for only a few months but has gotten chubby, rosy cheeks and did so well during her surgery. The mom carries the baby all over in a snuggly. I cried today when I was talking to the mom. I was so grateful for what she has done!”

There were many tears shared today as well, when the Fujian babies did their pre-op check ups and our pediatrician discovered that one of the children had a heart issue. After testing, it was learned that she has a 2 cm ASD. When our team told the aunty that the child couldn’t have cleft surgery because she had a heart issue, the aunty broke down in tears. She loved this little girl in her care so much. One LWB volunteer gave her a huge hug and everyone in tears trying to reassure the aunty that her baby would be okay. We are immediately scheduling the baby for heart surgery in Anhui and the wonderful thing is that just the day before, we had a donor write us to see if we had any heart children that needed a new chance at life. Hooray! We have just the heart baby for her…this beautiful child from Fujian.

For two of us it was a particularly emotional day when we were reunited with a baby we met on our last visit to China. Little Keren had arrived in Hefei for cleft palate surgery. Last May we had seen this lovely little baby with some very special needs, and we knew that to help her thrive she would need one on one care, something that is so very hard for the caring but busy SWI staff. She was moved to a special foster home and tomorrow will receive her surgery. Both Heidi and I held her close and she just snuggled right in. Her tiny warm body nestling there was the final straw to make both of us dissolve into tears. It was a very special moment.

And so it goes… the emotional ups and downs that make up the total experience of this life changing cleft trip.

Monday, October 30, 2006

18 new smiles

Another wonderful day in Hefei! Could you EVER get used to such beautiful babies? Oh to have lots of time to cuddle them all, but work was needed to get them their even prettier smiles.

Today rolled into action with the team promptly on the bus at 7 a.m., rounded up by Becky, our breakfast policewoman. This morning the well-oiled machine took off. You would never think that only 2 days had passed since this team came together the way this professional group of volunteers eased into their positions. It is very true that a team is made up by different people each doing their job to the best of their ability. From the surgeons to the bed coordinator (ahem breakfast policewoman) and shoppers for supplies - each worked hard to make sure that each child was cared for. Our pediatricians have been busy checking the children but also giving lots of valuable training to the ayis on the proper care of children with cleft.

Today 18 surgeries were performed, and all of the kids did great. We discharged some children today and that went very well. While the aunties and foster moms received their discharge instructions and signed out, our volunteers were more than happy to hold the babies and play peek a boo. Our ward has become quite packed with children. We had to move out of our broom cupboard storeroom to give it to the kids, then we had to get beds made up in the corridor. (For the Irish reading here, how familiar a sight is that…I’m right at home!)

One of the sweeties, a 22 month old boy, traveled 4 days to get here, by bus and by train. Some of you will remember him from last year, as a chance encounter with an LWB worker on a train led him to our team to get his lip repaired. His parents took him proudly back to his h ome in Sichuan following that surgery, and now he has returned for us to heal his palate. Greeted by a corridor full of babies all making noise, he was a wee bit anxious but once registered and handed a care pack, he settled well into bed 7. A lucky number no doubt!

Our PACU team has moved into a bigger room and they are really enjoying their time with the children as they awaken from surgery. We have some great volunteers in this area who ar e cuddling the kids so that they feel loved as they recover. Another volunteer on the ward today found herself in tears many times just looking out at so many beautiful babies who are in need of homes. Over and over we have heard how these kids have worked their way into everyone’s hearts. Our medical st aff is so impressed with everyone at Anhui Children’s. The quality of care they are giving is wonderful and we learned that so many of the Chinese doctors and nurses have come in on their off days to volunteer. So we have a true volunteer team from ALL over the world!

The Hefei newspaper gave LWB front page billing with an extra insert of great pictures. It was a really nice write up, and more reporters are photographing today. The caption read “The flower of smile blooms from their lips” It went well with one of our evening volunteers, Charlie, whose day job is as a landscape gardener!

Kathy, the evening RN, told of an Ayi who called her in because her post surgery baby was screaming mad. She had been instructed to give juice via a syringe but no way would the child take fluids. Kathy looked and saw the baby was staring straight at her bottle on the locker. “Waaa!” she screamed with her eyes focused on the prize. Kathy quickly hid the bottle and approached from behind with the syringe and squirted the juice to the side of her mouth. The baby drank gladly - crisis averted. A while later, the worried Ayi again ran for Kathy, but as soon as she entered the room the baby stopped crying. What quick learners these kids are!

Today we also were able to hand deliver the beautiful get-well cards made by children in the USA. The babies and their aunties really liked them and send a big thank you all the way from China to everyone who took the time to send such cheerful greetings.

Blogging off now and getting ready to meet the surgery teams who are coming close to a 12 hour shift. Tomorrow is another busy day. Ten beautiful kids from Philip Hayden in Langfang arrived today, as well as Amanda from the Starfish Home in Xi’An. Each baby is cuter than the next. Many of you will also remember CuiCui, the 19 year old girl whose lip we repaired last year in Luoyang. Well, she had another friend in her village who also needed cleft surgery, and YaoYao arrived today from Henan. We are very happy we can help her as well.

Wan an from Hefei!

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Sunday in Anhui

Three simple words: TODAY WENT GREAT!

Our team boarded the bus from the hotel this morning, and the highlight for many team members was meeting Gong Lu in person! Many of you remember sweet Gong Lu, the little girl who came to the US for surgery to remove a large facial tumor last spring and who charmed all of America when she appeared on the Today Show. Her surgeon Dr. Buckmiller is on our cleft mission, and so it had been arranged that Gong Lu would come for a post op check in Hefei. One volunteer sat in front of her on the bus to the hospital and they had a fun time playing “peek a boo” through the cracks in the seat. She had brought photos to share with Gong Lu of her trip to NYC. Gong Lu loved looking at the album and when she saw the first picture she excitedly said the name of our LWB medical director. She still remembers everyone from her time in the US. Dr. Buckmiller carefully examined her nose and was very, very pleased with the results.

Just before the surgeries began for the day, Gong Lu’s orphanage director presented a beautiful banner to Dr Buckmiller and LWB. It was a gift from the Jiangxi government and the Fenyi County SWI in thanks for the surgery received by Gong Lu. Once again, everyone who met this child commented on her fun and shining personality. As she left the hospital, she cheerfully said, “Let’s go then!”, flashing her signature smile.

Surgery started just after that, and a full days schedule began. 3 teams operated in 3 operating rooms, and our volunteers had lots of adorable babies to hug before and after they went to surgery. 13 children had their turns in the OR, and tonight the sun is going down on a new beginning for each of them. Each baby who came today now has a new smile to show the world. Often the number 13 in western culture signifies bad luck …but our Irish board member Julie Flynn Coleman wrote the following:

“13 has always been my lucky number! On this cleft trip, 13 appears often. The OR is on the 13th floor, 13 children today had surgery, and for me personally in bed 13 is a tiny little baby from my eldest daughter’s first home. The connection for me is so very real and as I carried her into the pre op exam I felt just like a mama fusing over her baby. “My” baby was showing a slightly low body temp and I had been clucking around her for a few hours off and on. She was going to be operated on tomorrow on Monday’s schedule, but to be extra cautious a few more blood tests are needed so now she will wait one day more for results. She is one of the youngest babies here with hair that sticks up everywhere. I could spot her at a running distance. Did I tell you she is gorgeous?”

Today was also the first press conference for LWB. It was requested at the height of pre-op activity, with people dashing off to buy more diapers and supplies and with the halls and hospital rooms filled with ayis and babies registering. The wards were full with “rounds” and daily activities, and there was nowhere in sight to find the “quiet room” the TV crew requested. One of our board members steered them down to our “broom cupboard” (the storage room), and with the help of our translator the interview proceeded. Julie marveled at how no notes were taken, until they then asked her to repeat it for camera – ack!! She had decided that since no formal occasions were coming that day she would wear an Irish t-shirt given by a friend in the US, a fun shirt with shamrocks. And now she was being interviewed on TV in China, so what to do? Julie thought quickly and grabbed sweet Gong Lu in her arms, who like a pro smiled and did an excellent job of hiding all from the camera!

We are so happy that all 13 babies did well today, but for many of us one little girl in particular is worth cheering for. Little Qian from Guangdong had a very severe bilateral cleft lip, and her orphanage had tried to heal her lip many times in the past. However, each time she would be intubated for anesthesia, she would stop breathing, so this gorgeous little girl with smiling eyes had been unable to have surgery. We had decided to bring her to Anhui in the hopes our team could do her repair. Our anesthesiologists had brought a very special tube with them from the US just for her, the tiniest one possible, and we are happy to report that sweet Qian had successful surgery today and now has a mouth to match the beauty of those eyes that are always twinkling!

We hope you enjoy some of the photos from today. Thank you all for your continued thoughts and prayers. This trip has already touched all of our lives. More than one team member has come down from the surgery area with tears in their eyes. Seeing our doctors and the Chinese doctors and nurses working together on the babies is extremely touching.