How It All Began: LWB’s Medical Program
Did you ever wonder just how LWB got started on its mission of helping orphaned and impoverished children in China? If so, we think you’ll enjoy reading about how our programs began small and grew to help more children than our founders ever imagined! Amy Eldridge, LWB’s Executive Director, writes about LWB’s Medical program — the one that began it all.
LWB has of course always been known for the medical assistance we provide, since Baby Kang’s heart surgery back in 2003 was what brought so many of us together in the beginning. Dr. Max Mitchell, from Denver, Colorado, was the heart surgeon who went to China and operated on Kang. What many people do not know is that there were actually four children that we sent for surgery, including Zhen, “the little blue girl,” who was three years old and unable to walk across the toddler room without stopping to kneel down and catch her breath. One of my favorite memories from that time was on the night before their surgeries, as it began to snow in Hangzhou. Snow is a sign of good luck in China, and the children had never seen it before since they were from a southern province. I love the image of the kids having their noses pressed against the hospital room window looking at their first snow with wonder on the night before they were healed.
We had initially raised $60,000 from our initial plea for Kang, and so we had money left over to help even more kids. We began helping in Guilin after people there heard of our work, and we then met Joyce Hill at the Hope Foster Home and helped some of their children with surgery. We helped kids from a private orphanage outside of Shanghai, many more kids in Guangdong… and then word spread QUICKLY that LWB would help orphaned children with medical needs all over China.
A few months later we planned our first cleft surgery mission, which healed 52 children. This cemented our reputation for providing quality medical care. Soon after LWB became the very first foreign foundation to contribute to China’s new national surgery program, healing eight heart babies from Shantou and Haikou, the very first surgeries of the Tomorrow Plan. We then began to branch out into neurosurgery, orthopedics, eye surgery, burns, and more.
Learning how to provide quality medical care to children 8,000 miles away was no easy task. We sadly learned a lot of difficult lessons those first years. A lot of people ask us now why we move orphaned children so far to hospitals, even out of province, but our answer is firm: We want to treat every child as if they are our own. That means only sending kids to the best pediatric hospitals that respect orphaned children and to doctors who have proven they are talented, ethical, and caring. Yes, it might cost more at times, but we want these children to be healed in the best way possible. I think LWB has the highest quality medical program in China because of this insistence on using the most respected doctors and hospitals, regardless of location.
To date we have healed over 1,800 children and have sent 11 medical teams to China. We have helped doctors in China come to the U.S. for training as well. In 2007, after realizing the huge stigma surrounding kids born with medical needs in China, we compiled and published our Manual of Special Needs, which has now been translated into three languages and which several of the hospitals we use now offer as a resource to their patients. In 2008 we made the decision to start offering medical care to impoverished families as well, as we realized that far too many families make the difficult decision to abandon their children when they cannot afford medical care. They would come into the hospitals where LWB works and try to give us their babies, saying, “Please just take her… We will give her up if you can just save her life.” No family should have to make that decision, and so our Unity Fund was born.
Our medical program is filled with very deep and ethical decisions that must be made all the time. For example if you raise $50,000 to heal kids, do you heal the first child on your list with a complex heart defect which will cost all $50,000? Or do you operate on the next ten who have milder heart defects whose surgeries will only cost $5,000 each? Knowing that 95% of the children in China’s orphanages have some sort of medical need, and knowing that we could never heal them all, which children get a chance at life? The list of ethical questions we have been asked to make is very long, and I will be quite honest and say the burden on the shoulders of those who work with these really sick kids is quite heavy.
Richard Zhang is our current medical director in China. We have done such a volume of surgery in the past that many hospitals are willing to contract with us for lower rates. We have offered our LWB rates to other charities doing medical work in China as well, allowing even more kids to be healed. We have had some amazing medical directors here in the U.S. who have helped build this program into what it is today. Nancy Delpha, Kelly Eckert, and Jodi Allion are now heading up our medical program, with a volunteer team of over 43 people who follow the children closely.
LWB has been privileged to have seen absolute miracles occur through this program over the last nine years. We have seen so many children who were so sick and vulnerable in China go on to be healed and then adopted around the world. This is definitely a program of second chances and saving lives.
~Amy Eldridge, Executive Director
If you have adopted a child from our medical program, we would love to hear from you on how they are doing! And stay tuned for the next installment on how our different program areas began.