LWB Community Blog

LWB’s 2019 Cleft Exchange – Day One

Welcome to LWB’s Cleft Trip 2019!  We’re so happy to have you following along. This year’s exchange is based in western China, in Gansu’s capital city of Lanzhou. We are honored to once again be working alongside the doctors at Gansu Provincial Hospital and can’t wait to share news and photos from this life-changing week.

The first day of any cleft exchange always involves intake and getting to tour the hospital to make sure all the medical personnel from both sides understand what’s to come.  As we arrived this morning, patients were already lined up in the hallways to see our team.

Before we introduce you to some of the children we met today, we want to tell you a bit more about the surgeon leading this year’s team.  Dr. Lisa Buckmiller has partnered with LWB many times over the years to help children find healing, and we are so excited to have her back for this year’s cleft exchange.  For those of you who know the Chinese saying that an invisible red thread connects those you are destined to meet in life, we want to share why this year’s cleft trip has brought those red threads together in a very cool way.

LWB’s first cleft trip to China was in 2004. Soon after that trip, we began discussing a very ambitious medical mission with Dr. Buckmiller, to take place in the fall of 2005. If you’ve read our book The Heart of an Orphan, you know that we set up a mobile M*A*S*H style operating unit inside the Luoyang orphanage, where we operated on over 140 children during a two-week period.

Dr. Buckmiller on the 2005 cleft trip

We were blogging our trips even back then, and a mom who followed along then reached out to see if Dr. Buckmiller could perhaps help one more little girl in China, an incredibly smart and adorable five-year-old named Gong Lu. Gong Lu was from an orphanage in eastern China and had been born with a large hemangioma on her face which was unable at that time to be treated in-country. Gong Lu had watched so many of her friends be chosen for adoption while never having the opportunity at a family herself due to her medical condition. She dreamed of someday having a mom and dad of her very own.

Gong Lu

LWB, Dr. Buckmiller, and the University of Arkansas came together to bring Gong Lu to the US for surgery in 2006.  All of us who were there could see the almost instant and deep connection that formed between Gong Lu and Dr. Buckmiller, who pledged that she would do whatever was necessary to give this special little girl all the medical care she deserved.

Before heading back to her orphanage in China, Gong Lu even got to visit NBC’s Today Show in New York, climbing into Katie Couric’s lap for the entire interview. Gong Lu told everyone she met that she hoped her operation would allow her to find “a good mama and daddy who can adopt me.”  Soon after, her wish came true. The red threads were tightly woven together when Gong Lu and Dr. Buckmiller became mother and daughter through adoption.

We’ve watched over the years as Gong Lu (now Anna) became a top honors student and began going on mission trips around the world with her mom.  And now….13 years after Gong Lu first came to the US for surgery as an LWB sponsored child….she has now returned to China with her mom as an official LWB cleft trip volunteer.  We think the red threads along the way have basically been enough to weave a whole king-sized blanket now!

Back in China to help a new generation of children

So onto Day One of the cleft trip, which primarily involved intake.  We had a very busy day doing screenings on 24 patients, including three orphaned children. We were thrilled to see two of the children from our 2018 trip come back again this year for palate repairs. You might remember little Faye, who charmed the socks off of everyone last year.  Faye was just 8-months-old when she was brought to see our team, one of three little girls in a rural, farming family. Her father worked far away in Beijing in order to support his daughters but traveled 1500 km back in order to be there with little Faye when she underwent her first surgery. Her parents were thrilled with her beautiful repair.

Now almost one-and-a half, Faye has returned to have her critical palate surgery, which will allow her the chance to develop normal speech. Isn’t she adorable?

Another child who returned to see our team this year is handsome Carter.  When he came to the cleft exchange last year, we learned that his family had faced a lot of shame and ridicule whenever they took their son outside, as they live in an extremely rural part of China where the superstitions surrounding cleft are still very strong.

The family was over-the-moon in love with their precious son, however, and they were determined to get him the medical care he needed despite their inability to afford the operation costs. We were so happy when they found their way to the LWB team, and Carter was given a beautiful lip repair. His family was overcome with emotion after surgery and said they couldn’t wait to take him home to their village to show everyone their handsome son. Carter has grown into a happy and healthy little boy who will be receiving his important palate surgery on this trip, and we can’t thank you enough for making these medical exchanges possible.

Some of the children who went through intake today, like one-year-old Riley, thought the process was an absolute blast, especially once he realized he was going to get a stuffed animal out of it. He sailed through his examinations, and Dr. Buckmiller will be repairing his palate tomorrow morning.


Others, like 3-month-old little Camryn, were a bit more unsure to meet our team. Her parents have done a beautiful job getting her weight up to where it needed to be for surgery, and she will be third on the schedule tomorrow for Dr. Buckmiller.


And so it went throughout the day, just like the classic game of plucking a daisy’s petals.

He loves us.

He loves us not.

He loves us.

And hey….wait a minute…..only a few loved us not!  Actually most of the kids who went through intake today were full of smiles and giggles, and we have some beautiful photos to prove it.

Sixteen surgeries are planned for tomorrow, starting at 7:30 a.m. We can’t wait to bring you some of the children’s stories as the operations get underway. Stay tuned for more news!

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  • Kerri says:

    Love Gong Lu’s (Anna) story – beautiful! Thank you for the work you are doing.

  • Shari Grover says:

    Thank you for this life-changing work!! You are amazing! We adopted a baby girl from Gansu 7 years ago. She had her cleft lip repaired in Gansu, by wonderful folks like you! today she has a family – (us!) and she is a healthy, happy 8 year old who is thriving! She is barely recognizable from the baby before the surgery. Thank you is not enough, but we will be praying for you this week!

  • Sharon Russell says:

    Thank God for using these talented and gifted individuals to help these little ones and their families. Love and prayers for you all as you follow your hearts.

  • Kathy says:

    Bless you guys. Glad some of the luggage finally arrived.

  • Nguyen says:

    Such a great program! Here’s hoping all surgeries go smoothly and recovery is quick for both kids and parents. We just went through the surgeries with our adopted daughter so I know how tough it can be. These kids are so strong! Thank you LWB.