LWB Community Blog

The 2016 Cleft Medical Exchange: Day Five

We had another great day in Kaifeng with eight more children receiving surgery today. We’ll start by telling you about the children who are orphaned first, and then introduce you to some of the wonderful rural families we were honored to help with medical care.

As we mentioned yesterday, four of the little boys on today’s OR schedule were from the Kaifeng PT Center, which is a government-sponsored project run by one of the past directors of the Kaifeng orphanage. The PT Center helps children with a wide variety of medical needs, and they take children who need extra TLC from 22 different orphanages around Henan province.

We have a special tie to this center, as our head nanny from our former LWB Henan Healing Home is now in charge of cleft care at the PT center. She was amazing when she worked with us, and she is still amazing with the kids today. All of the babies who came to see our team were happy and healthy, and it is clear they are receiving wonderful care.

First up on the schedule was Brad, who actually came to see our team last year but wasn’t able to receive surgery when our schedule became too full. Here’s his photo from last year so you can see the remarkable change in him now, following his surgery at a hospital in Beijing last fall.

Brad in 2015

This handsome little boy has a bold and outgoing personality, and he is willing to be cuddled by anyone. He LOVES the director of the PT Center and always jumps up into her arms when he sees her.

CME2016 Brad 4.21.16

His surgery went very smoothly, and he was recovering well in the afternoon. We are thrilled that his finding ad has been placed and his adoption file is being prepared.

Greg is another baby from the Kaifeng PT Center, and he is also very outgoing with an infectious laugh, although you might not be able to tell in this photo.

The nannies were joking that Greg looks like a little old man, and he most definitely has a favorite nanny he tries to stay close to. His repair went off without a hitch. Greg’s adoption paperwork is also being prepared which makes us so happy to know he will soon have a chance at having a forever family.

Tiny Ray is the youngest baby being seen on this trip, coming to our team at just ten weeks of age. As we’ve mentioned in the past, babies on our cleft trips must meet three “10s” to qualify for surgery — ten pounds for their weight, ten for their hemoglobin, and ten weeks old – so little Ray just made the cut. He is from a rural orphanage that doesn’t have a lot of experience feeding children with cleft, so before he came to the PT center, he was being tube fed as he was very skinny. Here’s the intake photo we first received of him.

The skilled nannies at the PT center were able to remove the feeding tube once Ray was in their care, and in the last few weeks he has steadily gained weight and become stronger. He got a really wonderful repair today and looks so cute. We heard the great news that his finding ad has also been placed, which means he can be filed for adoption in the near future as well.

Ray before surgery

Levi is another beautiful boy from the PT center whom we met last year, and he also was bumped from our schedule in 2015 due to how full it was. Here is his adorable photo from last year. Oh, how we loved that little bald head!

Levi is much more introverted than Brad and Greg. He only smiles at his nannies and is very cautious with everyone else. Levi is almost two, and he received his cleft lip surgery at a hospital in Beijing along with Brad. He went back to his orphanage after that surgery, but then he began losing weight so the orphanage sent him to the PT center to grow stronger. He still needs a bit of help walking, but we are sure his nannies will get him back on track.

Levi is a real snuggle-bug , and he loves to lay his head on his nanny and wrap his arms around her to completely hug her. He, too, will soon have his file available for adoption.

Omar is from an orphanage in the capital city of his province, and he is such a cute little boy. He was pretty fussy waiting for his surgery to begin since he wasn’t allowed to have any food or drink today, and so his nanny strolled him up and down the hospital halls trying to distract him. It’s always so hard to be last on the surgery schedule! He received a beautiful repair by Dr. Tollefson and Dr. Gary, and we’ll hopefully have some good photos of him tomorrow.

Omar before surgery

We also provided surgery for three children from rural families today, and each of them was very special. Little Alexander is an adorable little guy who might be a wee bit spoiled by his very large, extended family. He has an older brother who is ten years old who adores him. Their grandma takes care of the two boys, as the grandfather had to move to another town to take care of their cousins.

Alexander has been very sickly in the past, aspirating food due to his palate and battling constant pneumonia. Because of his illnesses, his family has spent all of their savings on hospital bills, making life very difficult. Alexander arrived with an entire posse accompanying him, including his uncles and aunts and great aunts and cousins. We noticed Alexander has quite a temper because he has so many people who adore him and always let him get his way. The grandma told one of our directors that once he is healthy after his palate surgery, they are going to discipline him more, to which our director smiled and thought, “uh huh” since he is obviously so doted upon. We are happy to report that Alexander’s surgery went very well, so we’ll apologize in advance to him if suddenly he finds himself getting scolded more! But seriously…is it any wonder none of them can tell him “no” at the moment? Look at that grin!

Alexander and his doting mom

Several of our team members were trying to figure out how to sneak Michael home in their suitcases, as he is absolutely adorable.

However, we think his very devoted mom might have something to say about that! This beautiful nine-month-old is from a small town in Henan, and when he was born with cleft lip, the director at the local hospital told the family not to worry because he knew that LWB came every year to Henan to do a cleft medical exchange. The mom said they had a real peace when they first saw their son’s cleft lip because they had hope that we would take care of him. How glad we are that on this final visit to Kaifeng we were able to help them!

Michael has two sisters, ages 7 and 15, who clearly adore their baby brother, and it is like he has three mothers taking care of him. Michael only has cleft lip and no open palate, so he is able to take a bottle well. His mom tried to breastfeed him as a baby, but she said that due to his lip it didn’t work at all. As a result, they had to start buying formula, which for rural families is a difficult financial burden.

Michael’s mother was so worried this morning about her son undergoing surgery that the entire time the doctors were talking to her she had huge tears streaming down her face. The grandmother, dad, and mom waited anxiously outside the OR room doors, and when Michael came out of surgery, he was very upset, which made the mom start sobbing even harder. The team assured her that they had given him a nice dose of pain medication before he left the recovery room and that he wasn’t in actual pain but was really just MAD. His repair was excellent, and we are sure by tomorrow he will be feeling much better.

The oldest patient at the cleft trip is a WONDERFUL young man to whom we gave the western name of Christopher. He is 21 years old and originally from Huainan in Anhui province, a town where we do a lot of work with the local orphanage. He was raised by his grandfather because his parents left Huainan to become migrant workers. After graduation, he spent 18 months building a railway tunnel in Kunming with two classmates from school. This past summer, he moved to Fujian province and found a job in a popular department store there, which is where he ended up connecting with LWB.

Christopher and LWB volunteer Nick Donovan

We have a rural student program in Fujian province, and our director Susie had gone to the department store to buy a bed for one of our students. She had a bit of funding left over and decided to buy some school supplies, and when she went to that department she met Christopher who was working that day! Since Susie helps every year on our cleft trips, she began talking with this wonderful young man and learned that he has had multiple surgeries for his cleft lip, but he has really struggled because of the social consequences in China of being born with this special need.

In many parts of China, there is a belief that the character of a person is a reflection of how they look on the outside, and that is why people with facial deformities often face great difficulties in being accepted. You might remember Robin, from our cleft trip in 2014.

Robin with Dr. Derechin in 2014

She was an older girl from an orphanage in Guangdong province, who had extremely low self esteem due to the harsh comments she endured from being born with cleft lip. Robin came to see our team for a revision, and she has told us that the difference in her life from that surgery has been immense. She has absolutely bloomed with her new appearance, and in fact we can share the wonderful news that she is attending computer school now and has since become engaged!

Knowing the enormous difference that was made in Robin’s life from receiving a cleft revision, Susie explained to Christopher that LWB sends a team of surgeons each year to China to help kids just like him, and she convinced him to come with her to Kaifeng to be seen by the surgeons. Christopher told our team that he hopes this surgery will improve his ability to be accepted, but that he will be grateful no matter the outcome. Dr. Tolan gave him a beautiful revision today and filled in the hole under his nostril. We think you’ll agree that he looks amazing.

All of our volunteers have fallen in love with this intelligent and kind young man, and the OR was packed today with everyone wanting to be there to support and cheer Christopher on.

CME2016 Christopher pacu 4.21.16

Today on the ward was a very busy day, with lots of children recovering from their surgeries earlier in the week. Thankfully, Daniella is feeling better today, and she was even up playing a bit with some balloons.

Everyone is still amazed by the repair that Mary Beth received from Dr. Tollefson and his team. She was resting comfortably today.

Isn’t Mary Beth’s hair just the greatest?

Emma recovering in her mama’s arms

Emma, Denver, and Emory were all feeling well enough today to be walked around the ward, although we know they will still be sore for a few more days.

Denver and family hanging out with LWB’s Kate Finco


And Samuel! Just look at how gorgeous he looks with his new repair.


Here are two more before and after photos for you, so you can see how the kids are healing. Don’t they look beautiful?



We welcomed a few more children today to the hospital who will be having surgery tomorrow. It will be a shorter OR day since it is the final day for surgeries, but we have a very special patient on the schedule:  little Leora from last year’s trip. We’ll share more of her story tomorrow, but we are sure if you followed along last year you will remember this outgoing and vivacious little girl.

Leora had a great time this afternoon playing patty cake with volunteer Mary del Toro, and even trying on her glasses.

We also welcomed Tessa and Sierra today.


Don’t tell Mary Beth, but we think Sierra might give her a run for the money for the title of “most awesome hair”!


Today we said our goodbyes to Shane, from Xiaoxian foster care, and also Joy from our foster care program in Guizhou. Joy loved spending time with our team member Nick so much. When he came to the hospital today, she squealed and threw out her arms to him. He went out this afternoon to get her a present, and sadly during the exact time while he was gone she was discharged to head back to her hometown. He was really bummed that he didn’t get to say goodbye to his new little friend. We are all going to be hoping Joy will find a family through adoption, and perhaps they can meet again in person someday.

Thank you again for all of your continued good wishes and prayers. Here are some extra photos from today so you can share in this wonderful adventure.

Sierra getting checked out by Dr. Clinch

Brad heading off to surgery

CME2016 Winnie eating miscWinnie felt well enough to eat!

CME2016 team 4.21.16Some of this year’s incredible team

Sweet Spencer feeling quiet as he waits to be discharged

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  • Jennie says:

    Every April, I look forward to reading about the cleft lip/palate patients. The postings are well-written and a joy to read.

    Heartfelt thanks to the surgical team (U.S. and China) for your skilled dedication and compassion to the patients. The transformations are stunning!

    Journey mercies to the U.S. team.