Personal Reflections on the 2016 Cleft Medical Exchange
After months of planning and anticipation and one crazy week jam-packed with surgeries, the 2016 Cleft Medical Exchange has concluded.
The travelers have all arrived home safely, and I am sure the hospital is happy to have things back to normal as well.
I had been involved in helping coordinate previous exchanges, but this was the first exchange in which I was able to be ‘on the ground’. Over the years I had always enjoyed the stories and photos of the children, marveled at the repairs, and enjoyed hearing about the trip from those who traveled. I thought I was prepared for the long days and hard work. I expected this trip, and the children, to impact me personally. How could such a journey not have an impact?
But what I wasn’t expecting, at least to such a degree, was the tremendous and overwhelming compassion, goodness and just simple humanity I was so blessed to witness throughout this entire process.
It started earlier this year when we asked for help gathering some handmade bibs as well as donations of gently-used arm restraints (aka no-nos) for the children having surgery. Our hope was to offer each child one handmade bib and a set of no-nos. We were overwhelmed with generosity and received hundreds of beautiful bibs and enough no-nos to fit each child perfectly.
When we gave them out in Kaifeng, the families and caregivers were thrilled with the bibs, and many came to ask for more, if possible. Because of the incredible kindness of our donors, we were able to always say, “Yes, here are some more.”
I noticed the nannies and parents comparing bibs in the hallways and admiring the stitching and workmanship. When I think about people from one side of our globe taking the time and care to sew bibs and ship no-nos for children having surgery on the other side of the globe I feel ‘goodness and compassion’ in action.
I am struggling to find the words to adequately convey what I was so fortunate to witness as I watched this team of people working side by side throughout the week. Several had never met and often didn’t speak the same language, but that didn’t stand in the way of making this week possible for the sake of the children.
Whether it was the staff of the Kaifeng Children’s Hospital (KCH), the LWB China team, or the group who traveled, one purpose became very clear: each and every single child would receive the best care in the most loving way possible.
I was able to observe the process each child had to go through in order to have their surgery, and each step was amazing! As soon as each child arrived in the hospital they were played with, hugged and loved on.
When it was time for surgery, the anesthesiologists would cradle the child until they fell asleep.
Then the surgeons would perform the repair, palate or lip, with tremendous skill and patience.
I have seen the after photos of many, many cleft lip repairs and knew it was more than ‘stitching a lip together’ but I wasn’t prepared for the pure artistry I witnessed in the OR. The planning and measuring and the precise placement of stitches with just the right amount of tension was truly awe-inspiring. I also watched a cleft palate repair, but it was more difficult to see what the surgeons were doing.
Following surgery, the anesthesiologists gently wake the child up. For me, this was a stressful time. Thankfully, nothing went wrong, but the babies are so little and I’m glad we had experts ensuring their safety.
Once the child was back in the PACU, the nurses would watch them very closely and help them as they became more alert and awake. Then it was back down to a bed and into the care of their family or nanny.
Many of the children didn’t really want to play with us after their surgery until they were discharged, but certainly that is understandable.
Over the four Cleft Medical Exchanges that have taken place at KCH, there have been 147 children healed, which is wonderful. However, what completely amazed me about this mission were the deep friendships which developed over the course of the week. While the children will always be the top priority during these exchanges, many additional changes in attitudes and hearts occur as well.
The children will always remain in my heart and my thoughts, but I am so thankful for the opportunity to have been a part of this generous, compassionate, and infinitely kind group of people. There is so much good in the world, and this trip was a beautiful reminder of that for me.
~Kate Finco is the Chief Operations Executive for Love Without Boundaries