Reflections on the 2015 Cleft Medical Exchange
As someone who was on the ground with the children during our 2015 Cleft Medical Exchange, it is difficult to reflect upon everything that happened last week. That being said, it’s even harder to try and condense all of my thoughts into a single blog post!
We heard incredible stories from families, caregivers and team members alike of triumph over adversity. There’s no doubt the exchange was a tremendous success, and the children are the visible proof. People came together from around the world to fund surgeries and to support orphaned and impoverished children in need of cranio-facial surgery.
Those who received operations were safe, loved and well cared for. Thanks to the combined efforts of many, they received beautiful repairs. We are working hard to ensure that all children who came to the exchange in hopes of receiving care but who were not able to make it onto the schedule will be served at one of our partner hospitals in China.
Something that may be less apparent which really caught me off guard this week is the emotional toll that comes from experiencing such incredible fluctuations in feelings each day. The volunteers were often overwhelmed by the contrasting emotions and the rapid pace at which they shifted.
There was baby Denver, for example, whose family arrived full of hope at the prospect of his surgery. Hope was soon replaced with the utter despair that followed the news of a possible serious health condition. And then miraculously, just 24 hours later, the next test proved their treasured son was healthy and would be able to have surgery after all.
Then there was Spencer, the happiest little boy with an awesome smile and the best giggle ever, who resorted to self-soothing tactics instead of tears after his surgery. We gently encouraged the continual use of pain relief medication as it was clear to us that Spencer was really hurting and yet shed no tears.
Similarly, many of the orphanage babies who had been smiley and interactive before surgery were understandably somber and withdrawn post surgery. We all grew so fond of these little ones, and yet the reality of their status as orphans was painfully recalled when they returned to institutional care rather than to the incomparable love and presence of a family.
Leora was yet another example of a big and swift shift in emotions. She went from being the friendly and happy girl the day before the surgery to one full of anxiety and tears (along with her father) immediately before her operation began.
Moving us with his strength and perseverance was fifteen-year-old Ray, twice-orphaned and fully committed to paying back his deceased parents’ debt on his own. He refused any financial help, but we are thrilled that he accepted our offer to assist with the Life Skills Training Camp this summer. Ray will earn money for his efforts, and the debt will soon be paid off. Additionally, we believe that he can have surgery in Shanghai, and we look forward to helping make this a reality.
Finally, there were the children from Shandong province. We have formed a new partnership with Billy, Delia and CJ’s orphanage, and we were hoping all three could receive surgery this week. The kids arrived on Monday, and I must confess my ignorance as I had a rush of indignation when I saw the children wearing masks as they came off of the elevator. I was angry at what I thought might be shame over the appearance of the children and, then in an instant, I realized how very wrong I had been. Their caregivers covered their faces out of complete compassion and a desire to protect Billy, Delia and CJ. I will never forget the horrible moment when the masks were removed and people gasped aloud; one woman even began to cry. All three children started to sob, and it was a traumatic experience for everyone present. Fortunately, all three children calmed down after some time.
Our volunteers spent a lot of time and effort with these kids during the week, and we are thrilled that both Billy and Delia could be helped with surgery from our team. While CJ could not receive surgery due to his cerebral palsy, we are very happy to have learned that he can hopefully receive surgery in Shanghai in the future.
I will forever be grateful to have been part of this life-changing exchange, and I am especially thankful for the opportunity to further experience the complexity that is part of so many of our kids’ histories before adoption. Yes, there is often tremendous grief and loss, but also the hope and love that comes when individuals in China and around the world care so deeply for the children.
Many thanks to everyone who made this trip possible, and especially to those who were there in Kaifeng this past week and sacrificed a part of their hearts. I know we will never be the same.
~Kelly Wolfe, Chief Administrative Executive