LWB Community Blog

2018 Cleft Medical Exchange: Day Six

Another wonderful cleft trip is coming to a close, with 52 children receiving surgery over the last week. We can say with certainty that each and every child who came to see our team has received the message that they’re beautiful, special, and oh so loved.

Today there were only four palate surgeries on the schedule, since our team will be leaving at 4 a.m. in the morning to begin their trip back to the US.  Final rounds were bittersweet, as we knew it was time to say goodbye to these kind families who have made our week so memorable.

Jean Gabarra, one of our amazing LWB volunteers, was especially touched by the dedication of those she met.

She shared the following:

This was my first Cleft Exchange trip, and it was an incredible experience. Many things stand out, but most of all I will never forget the grandparents.  Being an adoptive parent of Chinese children, I have of course heard a lot about how children with birth defects and other disabilities are often rejected in China, especially by the older generation.  But here in Lanzhou I saw all these grandparents embracing and fighting for the lives of their grandchild, regardless of their disabilities and regardless of seemingly insurmountable obstacles.  They were proud of their grandchildren and wanting nothing more than good lives for them, just as I want for my own children.  We hung identification cards above the beds of each child, which featured a large picture of the child pre-surgery.  Without exception, they asked to take the picture home after discharge, a memory of their child before the surgery.  Later as I held hands with one grandmother who stood outside the operating room doors while her grandson had surgery, never taking a seat herself to rest, it occurred to me how different this experience with these families was from the conventional beliefs. I will always be grateful for this experience and all I learned.

We want to share just a few more photos of some of the children who had surgery this past week.

Eight-month-old Gabe is the first child of a large extended family right here in Lanzhou. His father was so excited to learn about our team coming and told us that his only wish is for Gabe to have a healthy and happy life in the future.

Gabe sailed through his surgery, and his repair by Dr. Tollefson looks absolutely amazing.

Delyth is a one-year-old little girl who wasn’t exactly thrilled to see any of our team, but her father certainly was. He’d been researching for months the very best hospitals in Gansu to take his beloved daughter to for surgery when he learned that LWB was sending a team to Lanzhou. He kept telling us, “This girl is so smart and so perfect and now her lip will be as well.”

When he saw how beautiful his daughter looked after surgery, he said, ““I offer my sincere welcome to LWB for coming to China to help children. There are so many more who need help, especially in the rural mountain areas. Please come again to continue this important work.”

Late in the evening, the Chinese and American teams held their closing ceremony, to celebrate all of the successful surgeries provided to the kids. After working such long and often exhausting hours each day to ensure each child received the highest medical care, it was wonderful to relax with our new friends and colleagues.

LWB presented the hospital with a set of surgical instruments, which we know will be used for years to come to help more children receive new smiles. The funniest moment of the evening was when the China team said they had a special gift for Dr. Tollefson.

Dr. Tollefson is an incredible humanitarian doctor, who travels all over the world to heal children. He has been to China many times in the past, and has picked up a lot of Mandarin. Mandarin can be a very difficult language at times, however, since many words have different meanings depending on the tone used. For instance, the word “ma” can mean mother or horse, depending on its inflection. All week Dr. Tollefson had been asking for a specific surgical clamp in Chinese while operating, but he was actually saying a different word. The Chinese team didn’t have the heart to tell him, so they just kept handing him the clamp when he asked.  However, at the dinner, they finally let him in on their secret. Instead of saying, “I want a clamp” all week, he was actually saying, “I want an eggplant.”  So they were happy to oblige tonight at dinner by presenting him with one of his own.

Such a special week in Lanzhou, with everyone coming together with the sole purpose of improving the lives of children. These are always trips filled with emotions, from excitement and joy when we see a child’s new appearance to sorrow and regret when a child travels so far only to be told surgery can’t take place. We had yet another baby with cleft arrive whose parents were hoping we could do “just one more,” but upon the intake exam it was determined that little Asher has a heart defect like Mabel’s. The family was distraught, but we assured them that through our Unity Initiative, we would find a way for their son to receive the heart surgery he needs. This work is never ending, but we cling to our belief that every child whose life we can impact changes this world for the good. Welcome to LWB, baby Asher.

Today we close with the famous quote by Carl Sandburg which says, “A baby is God’s opinion that life should go on.”

All of the precious children who came to see our team this week are a beautiful reminder that life is indeed filled with new beginnings. New connections, new hope, new chances at a better future. And they showed us so clearly that despite poverty or sickness or hardship…..children are a true light in this often hurting world.

Their smiles are so pure.

Their dreams so innocent.

And the joy they can find, even on the wards and hallways of a crowded hospital, touched us all completely.

So for for one last time, from our entire team in Gansu, THANK YOU for being part of this very special week of healing. When we come together to help children in need, love truly has no boundaries.


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