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Second Surgery Day of the 2017 Cambodia Medical Exchange

It’s Day Two of surgeries here in Phnom Penh, and we’re happy to report that all of our little patients are doing well. Avery is understandably still very sore from her lip repair yesterday, but she looked great during morning rounds.

One of the adorable little boys having surgery today is Silas, who will be turning four in just a few weeks. His parents are rice farmers, and he’s the baby of his family. Silas’ mom saw an advertisement that our team would be in Cambodia this week and knew right away that she needed to bring him to see the doctors.

Sadly, Silas has faced bullying in his village due to his unrepaired cleft lip. When he learned that he’d be coming to hopefully have surgery, Silas told his sister that no one would be able to tease him any longer. We’re so glad we could play a part in making that wish come true for him.

For those of you who have followed our cleft trips in the past, you know that Dr. Clinch always puts children to sleep in the most gentle way possible. We loved this video of her putting Silas to sleep before his surgery. Brave Silas managed to stay awake all the way to the windows verse of “The Wheels on the Bus.”

The award for Most Awesome Hair of the Week goes to three-month-old Sue. Her family traveled to Phnom Penh from their village near the Cambodian coast. Little Sue has three older siblings, including her ten-year-old brother Ben, who was also born with cleft.  Thankfully, Sue and Ben’s father heard about our team coming to Cambodia and brought both kids hoping to get surgery spots. (We will share Ben’s photos tomorrow). Sue’s mom needed to stay at home with the other children, and we know it must be very difficult for her to be so far away. It’s obvious how much little Sue is adored.

When it was time for Sue to go back to the OR, Dr. Derechin and the anesthesia team quickly had her drifting off to sleep.

Then it was time for Dr. Harris and Dr. Tollefson to work their magic on Sue’s cleft lip.

Doesn’t she look beautiful?

While Sue was still in the recovery room, one of our volunteers took a photo of Sue’s repair on her phone and ran out to show Sue’s father and aunt. They were amazed at the incredible repair and took photos of the images on our volunteer’s phone so they could text them to Sue’s mom.  Their joy became even greater when baby Sue was ready to come out of recovery and they were able to see her repair in person. What a moment that was!

Another gorgeous baby on the OR schedule today is six-month-old Willow.  She has what is known as a microform cleft, one of the rarest types. While the gap in this type of cleft isn’t as large, it can still impact the underlying tissue.

After seeing an advertisement placed by Smile Cambodia, Willow’s family traveled a very long way to meet our medical team. Her mother was extremely nervous before the surgery, especially because Willow had to wait until after lunch for her turn to head to the OR.

Willow sends her thanks for all the toys donated for this trip

By the time the doctors came to take Willow back to the operating room, her mom’s anxiety had reached a point where she was in tears.  We tried our best to reassure Mama that Willow was in the absolute best hands, but she continued to cry with worry. One of our volunteers on this trip has cleft-affected children,  and she stayed with Willow’s mom during the surgery for comfort.

When Willow emerged from the OR, awake and very calm, Mama held her close, and relief flooded over her face.  It’s moments like these when our team feels so humbled and honored to be here.

Today a few more walk-in patients arrived whom we definitely want to receive surgery, so the OR schedule is being revised once again. One of these new walk-ins was a beautiful girl named Grace. Grace is 16 years old and has lived her entire life with an unrepaired cleft lip.


Grace and her father traveled from the mountainous region of northern Cambodia, one of the poorest areas of the country. They don’t speak Khmer, so everyone’s been doing their best to communicate as best as they possibly can without a common language.  Grace will be having surgery tomorrow, and we know her life is going to be impacted in such an enormous way after receiving a new smile.

Another new arrival was eight-month-old Kenzie.  Team leader Kate Finco spoke with Kenzie’s mom, and Kenzie was put on the schedule for tomorrow after making sure her vitals were all within the acceptable ranges.

It didn’t take long at all for Kenzie to feel completely comfortable with our team, especially when the stuffed animals appeared. This little beauty charmed everyone she met!

Before we close for the day, we want to share a story of WHY this work is so important. We aren’t going to share photos because we want to protect this family’s privacy. But if you ever wonder if your donation is really making a difference, we want you to know that YES…it truly is.

When Annie was born with cleft lip, her parents looked at their newborn baby and were certain that their family had been cursed. In many cultures, this belief is a common superstition about visible birth defects. Their baby wasn’t breathing, so the father quickly took her to a spot next to a temple. He buried his daughter’s body but must not have completely covered her head.  Some time later, the monks at the temple heard a baby crying at the top of her lungs. They rushed outside and found little Annie, thankfully still alive.

The monks took Annie into the temple and got her the medical care she needed to survive. Incredibly, they were then able to track down Annie’s family and tell them their daughter’s lip could be repaired. Annie’s parents had been living with such sorrow and guilt over what they had done, and they were overcome with relief to be reunited with their daughter. This week, they came to our team for further surgery to help their precious daughter.

This is yet another reason why we believe our Cleft Medical Exchanges are so important. Not only do incredible surgeries take place in collaboration with local physicians, but families get to see a week of celebrating the beauty and wonder of each individual child, both before surgery (when they are AMAZING) and after surgery (when they are STILL amazing). These families get to hear the message that every child born has immeasurable worth.

That’s a message the world needs to hear more often.  It’s only possible thanks to your help.

Here are a few more photos from our wonderful day.  We’ll be back tomorrow with more news from Phnom Penh!

We just can’t thank you all enough for making this life-changing week possible.

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  • Pam says:

    Your organization is amazing! Love the photos!

  • Elisa Criden says:

    Grace… Willow… hard to pick a favorite but these two are polar opposites if severity. Can’t wait to see their pictures again. Beautiful children. ??

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