How Far Would You Go?
I am often asked why so many children with medical needs are now orphaned in China. I frequently have people tell me that they think it is terrible that anyone would abandon a child who was sick, and I see similar comments on social media with regular frequency. I remember having a discussion with another parent at an adoption conference, and she told me quite frankly that she would never honor her daughter’s birthparents because they had “thrown her away” when she was born needing surgery.
Over the last decade of working in China, I have learned that this is a complex subject that can’t be summed up in simple black or white statements. For many rural families, the cost of providing their child with medical care is completely beyond their reach. How far would you go to possibly save the life of your child? I have met many families over the years who have faced that heartbreaking question with true desperation.
I remember being in a children’s hospital on one of my trips to China and having a father approach our team with his one-year-old son in his arms. The man who stood in front of me looked decades older than his true age. His face was heavily lined and wind-chapped from working in the fields all day. He had on a threadbare coat and shoes which had almost lost their soles. He asked if we were part of the group who helped provide free surgeries to orphaned children. When I confirmed that we did, he began to quietly tell us that his son was also dying of a complex heart defect, but that his family had no possible means of raising the $10,000 needed to save his life. This was several years ago, but at the time his family was living on 10-15 rmb (less than $2) a day.
Despite all of China’s financial progress, the reality is that over 80 million people there still live on less than ONE DOLLAR per day. This man told us that he and his wife had tried to borrow from people in their village, but everyone knew that they would never be repaid, and so he had only raised $320, which would take him at least a year to pay back. He had taken a long bus ride to Shanghai with his son with the hope that the hospital would provide his child’s needed surgery and allow him to pay the bill slowly over time. He was told, however, that without having the funds up front…there would be no operation.
Later, I learned that he asked our Chinese director in the hallway if we would consider helping his son if he gave his child to us permanently. He saw we were providing free medical care to orphaned children, and he said he would rather have his own heart break from losing his son if it meant his little boy would have a chance to live. He wasn’t “throwing his son away”; he was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice if it meant the child he loved could finally get life-saving heart surgery.
I remember sitting in my hotel room that night wondering what it would be like to know that your child was truly dying, while also knowing that no medical assistance would be given without payment up front. I honestly couldn’t think about it for too long, because it just made me so sad to think about how many families around the world feel that desperation every day. I was so happy when we were able to arrange surgery for this family’s child, and I was blessed to be able to meet the little boy and his dad the next year when I visited their province. I will never forget their smiles and how the father appeared to be ten years younger now that the weight of not being able to help his sick child had been removed from his shoulders. The little boy was now an energetic toddler who was obviously aware that he was completely cherished. The pride and love for his little boy was palpable on his father’s face.
I am so grateful to everyone who has supported our Unity Initiative to help families who are facing the same types of situations as the one above. Just this week, one of our LWB team members met a family in Hubei who had taken their child to a free cleft surgery mission with the hope that she could finally receive her operation. Once there, they sadly learned that Susan, their daughter, did not qualify due to having a complex heart defect as well. This family lives in such severe poverty, and they explained that they couldn’t afford to even provide cleft surgery to their child, and so of course it would be absolutely impossible to raise the funds for life-saving heart surgery. What do a mom and dad feel when they receive the news that their only child needs an operation they cannot provide? I have seen it too many times on their faces: feelings of distress, despair, and hopelessness.
We are making arrangements now to send little Susan and her family to Shanghai to have a full evaluation done to see if she is operable. I would be so grateful for your prayers that we are not too late, as sadly with some heart conditions a child loses his or her window to survive surgery if the repair isn’t done in infancy. My hope is that Susan can have the operation she needs to turn from blue to that wonderful pink we love, and then in the future we can help her receive a beautiful cleft lip surgery as well.
Together, we can bring real hope to families in need.
~Amy Eldridge, Chief Executive Officer