This week, all of the team members for LWB’s next international cleft surgery exchange are leaving for China. The babies and older children will start their journeys to Kaifeng this Friday as well, most arriving by train but a few coming by plane since they are from provinces far away from Henan. For a lot of them, it will be the first time they have left their orphanage, and our team will be waiting to give them the warmest welcome possible.
Our very first LWB cleft trip was held exactly ten years ago. I had been talking to an orphanage doctor in Guangdong province who told me how many babies in the region had unrepaired cleft lips and struggled to eat. I still smile when I think how naïve I was when I said, “Well, let’s just bring in some surgeons to heal as many of them as possible.”
Our charity at that point was just five volunteers strong, and we knew absolutely nothing about the complexities of organizing an international medical trip. Customs laws about medical equipment? Requirements for Chinese medical licenses? Every day I would wake up with yet another message on why the trip couldn’t move forward – and yet some miraculous way it all came together, and 52 beautiful children got new smiles.
The next year we decided to send two teams to Luoyang, Henan province, and someone (I plead the fifth) thought it would be a good idea to set up a mobile operating room inside the orphanage.
I look back on that trip and know it was the one which showed us that just about anything could be overcome when children need help. From anesthesia machines which broke down to pouring bottled water over the surgeons’ hands while they scrubbed when the orphanage water supply burst – I got to watch over 70 team members work with grace, humility, and compassion to make sure every child’s surgery (over 100) went beautifully.
That was also the year, however, that we decided all future trips would be in hospitals – always! Wisdom through experience, right?
Since 2004, LWB has sent over a dozen surgical teams to China to help orphaned children, and our model has evolved over the years to not be “missions,” but instead “exchanges.” We want our trips to be teaching opportunities, and we want to work closely with Chinese doctors and nurses to share information both ways, advancing cleft care so countless more children can benefit in the future.
Our Medical Trips team make everything look effortless now. I wish I could say that behind the scenes not one “oh my goodness” moment still happens, but just this week for example, we had panicked emails over a state seal holding up Chinese authorities issuing medical licenses to our team (it said the “Commonwealth of Virginia” versus the “State of Virginia.”) Yesterday we panicked just a bit more over an anesthesia medication we needed, but it is now in our possession, and all is well with the world.
Hiccups come with any complex project of course, but when you have lots of beautiful children counting on you to help them, every detail has to be JUST right.
Today I want to give a huge shout of thanks to all of our amazing volunteers who make these trips possible. From compiling medical records to organizing surgery schedules to printing up name tags and making sure nannies and babies have every detail handled for them from the moment they arrive – these exchanges take months of planning in both the U.S. and China which often goes unrecognized.
To our medical and volunteer team heading to China at your own expense – WE THANK YOU.
To the doctors and nurses at Kaifeng Children’s Hospital, who are welcoming us back in partnership for the second time – WE THANK YOU.
To our amazing LWB team members in China, who are coming from multiple provinces and taking vacation time from work to help these children receive surgery – WE THANK YOU.
To our volunteers around the world who have double and triple checked every “to do” item and who will be updating donors each day on the kids they sponsored – WE THANK YOU.
To our incredible supporters who have given from your hearts to fund each child’s surgery – WE THANK YOU.
To the kindhearted people, companies, schools and churches who donated bibs, toys, infant vitamins and medical supplies – WE THANK YOU.
To everyone who will be thinking of the children and lifting them up for a beautiful healing in the days to come – WE THANK YOU.
Next week we will be blogging about each day’s events and will introduce you to many of the children having surgery. Here’s to another successful medical exchange and to many lives changed!
~Amy Eldridge, Chief Executive Officer
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