LWB Community Blog

The 2016 Cleft Medical Exchange: Day Two

It was a wonderful Monday in Kaifeng, our first OR day of the week. As our team arrived to the hospital this morning, they were greeted by the same sweet faces as the day before, but luckily with a little less panic and stranger danger than on Sunday.

The medical team gathered together for morning rounds, making sure that there were no developments overnight that would alter the surgery schedule. Thankfully, green lights were given by the physicians for all the kids.

In China, it is customary for all momentous occasions to have both a formal beginning and end, and so before the surgeries got underway, the hospital staff and our team participated in the official opening ceremony of the 2016 Cleft Exchange. It was held on the very top floor of the hospital, and the local press were present with cameras poised.

After general introductions, Dr. Tolan spoke first.

His speech reflected our team’s deep gratitude for the partnership that has grown throughout the four years of medical exchanges between LWB and Kaifeng Children’s Hospital.

Director Huang, the head of KCH, spoke next. After sharing information on the hospital and its specialties, she went on to express how much her staff have appreciated having the LWB team come each year. She noted that all of the involved medical staff have grown to new levels of compassionate care for their patients. Director Huang emphasized that they will move forward striving to provide the highest quality medical care to orphaned children in their community because their lives truly matter.

Following the ceremony, it was time for the first surgeries to begin. First up for the day were babies Leo and Stephanie. Leo had traveled a very long way for his operation, all the way from western Gansu province.

Leo being greeted by volunteer Laurie Sweeney

Stephanie also had a long journey by train, arriving to Kaifeng from the northern mountains of Guizhou.

Stephanie and her nanny

Dr. Clinch and Dr. Derechin, the two anesthesiologists on the trip, are not only great physicians but also true baby charmers. In one second, they were playing peek-a-boo and singing a lullaby to the children snuggled in their laps, and the next, the little ones were lulled into a deep sleep, with just a wee bit of help from the anesthesia meds.

Leo in the OR

Their surgeries each took about 90 minutes, and we are happy to report that both operations went beautifully. As the children came out of the OR, they were given to Lori Trumbo and Dana Donnahue, both RNs in the PACU, who will care for all the children post-op as they gradually wake up. It’s a comforting feeling to know that from the moment these precious patients come into the hospital until they discharge, a team of volunteers is committed to pouring out love upon them.


Leo is going to get a little extra love from LWB as well, as we will be taking him to our Anhui Healing Home for a few months of post-op care.

Dr. Tollefson checking on Leo after his surgery

Leo cleft surgery Such a beautiful repair!

Baby Stephanie was resting very comfortably following her operation, and her nanny took advantage of the opportunity to get a little nap in herself.

One thing you might not know is that during our cleft trips, the surgeons alternate between lip repairs and palates for a reason. This allows for the proper instruments needed for each case to be properly sterilized in between.

Jacob and George, the two boys who traveled on the train with our team from Beijing to Kaifeng, were up next. George, who had been so outgoing and happy the day before, was a lot more subdued today because of having to get an IV started (who can blame him?). Luckily, some minion stickers were able to coax a few smiles out of him before the operation began.

Little Jacob was also pretty solemn after getting his IV, but he was mesmerized as Dr. Clinch sang “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” to him in the OR.


Dr. Clinch’s loving compassion for each child is absolutely contagious. She snuggled Jacob like he was her own baby and took the time to get a smile out of him before she held the mask over his face until he drifted off to sleep. The surgeons both reported that the boys did great during their operations, and they slowly woke up throughout the day.  Palate repairs are definitely a more uncomfortable recovery, and these boys reflected that once they were back on the ward.

Charlie and Cindy were next in line for the OR to have their lips repaired. Charlie is an absolute peanut, but he giggles and smiles a lot. Before his operation, he was playing peek-a-boo with the LWB team members.

Peek-a-boo, Charlie!

Cindy is a very shy little girl who looked very worried this morning with all the preparations taking place.  But oh, the wonder of having a soft stuffed animal to hold onto in the hospital!

Cindy cuddling her new stuffed animal

We can happily report that both babies were completely transformed by their surgeries.

Charlie post-op

Gary and Charlotte were the final palate surgeries scheduled for the day. Soon after they went up, we received word on the medical floor that Gary did not tolerate the anesthesia well as they began to put him under, and so his palate repair had to be cancelled. We were all disappointed to hear that he would not get this important surgery today, but as Dr. Tollefsen explained, safety always comes first. Gary is very tiny and only 18 months old, and the doctors felt that he needs to put on some more weight in order to be scheduled for surgery sometime next year. We have assured his orphanage that we will help arrange an operation for him once he can safely be put under anesthesia, and we have wonderful news that the staff from Amazing Hands Healing Home are willing to take him into their care so he can grow stronger.  We were all so happy that the arrangements were confirmed for that to happen today.

Little Charlotte is the beloved daughter of a rural family who lives about 100 miles from Kaifeng. Their daughter was born with an isolated cleft palate, which is more rare and occurs in about 1 in every 2,000 births around the world.

Charlotte playing patty-cake with her dad before surgery

Last year when she was five months old, Charlotte came down with a severe fever, and her panicked parents took her to Kaifeng Children’s Hospital for treatment. It was right before last year’s LWB Cleft Medical Exchange and the family was hoping for surgery for their daughter then. However, the hospital told them that their baby would need to be 18 months old before her palate could be repaired.

CME2016 Charlotte mom 4.18.16Charlotte and her grateful mother

The family was so happy that LWB returned again this year, and they wish to express their great gratitude to the people who sponsored their daughter’s surgery. Charlotte’s repair went well, and she was waking up and taking fluids by the time we left the hospital in the evening.

CME2016 Doctors Cindy 4.18.16

We just can’t say enough times how incredible both the US and Chinese medical teams are. Since the doctors volunteering for LWB have been to China for several years in a row, they have now learned enough Mandarin that the translator in the OR isn’t really needed for the basic flow of a typical surgery. It has been a real gift to return to the same hospital for four consecutive years, as the friendships which have formed mean the medical team works in real harmony, ultimately benefiting the children in a great way.

Samuel has arrived!

We did additional intake today and are happy to report that baby Samuel safely arrived to Fujian after all of his travel delays yesterday. He is such a beautiful little boy!

Smiles from Samuel

We were also glad to welcome another baby from the same province, this one a little girl we have given the name Alina. One of our wonderful Chinese directors, Susie, was reading the newspaper recently and saw a story that a baby girl with cleft lip had been abandoned on a tea farm up in the mountains of northeast Fujian. Susie immediately phoned the local orphanage to see if there was anything we could do to help the child, and quickly arrangements were made for this baby to travel to our cleft exchange. However, since Alina doesn’t have her formal orphanage identification papers yet, she was unable to travel by plane. Alina and a nanny made the long journey up to Henan on a series of trains, and we are thrilled that they have arrived safely.

Precious Alina

We also were blessed to meet another child from Fujian who came to see our team, and we’ll just say there was yet another gender mix-up. We do want to say that in Mandarin, the word for “he” and “she” is the same — TA — so we can see where some confusion can come into play when getting child information by phone. We originally thought we were welcoming a little boy we named Colin, but instead gorgeous Daniella arrived.

Daniella gets to know LWB volunteer Kirstin Clark

Daniella has a very special story we will tell you tomorrow, as she arrived to Kaifeng accompanied by the loving Buddhist nuns who are her caregivers.

We are often asked by our supporters if children who are abandoned are ever able to be reunited with their birth families. While it is rare, we are happy to report that sometimes it does happen, as you will see in Allyson’s story.

Allyson was born with cleft lip in far western China, and upon seeing she had been born with cleft lip, her parents panicked and left their baby in fear. She was taken to an orphanage with whom LWB partners, and when she had gotten a little older Allyson had her initial cleft lip surgery.

What we didn’t know at the time was that Allyson’s parents had been quietly checking on her, and when they saw her after her operation, they began coming to the orphanage more and more to see her. We are so happy that they have made the decision to be permanently reunited with their daughter, and so instead of an orphanage worker bringing Allyson to Kaifeng for her palate surgery, she traveled with her very own mom and dad! We are thrilled to be able to stand beside this family with lots of encouragement and support as we believe so fully in family preservation.

We also were happy to see little Shane once again in person, who has been in LWB’s care since he was a tiny baby.

Shane 1-2013 (1)

Shane is from an orphanage in Anhui who called us when he was just a few months old, and we were happy to take him to our Anhui Healing Home for some TLC. When he arrived, he was just over six pounds, but wow — did he soon begin packing on the pounds! One of our favorite photos of all time is of Shane photobombing another baby at the home, and so we just have to take this opportunity to share it again because it still makes us smile.

Shane photobombPhotobomber Shane

After Shane’s lip surgery, he graduated to LWB foster care where he remains today. Shane has come to Kaifeng for his palate to be repaired, and so far he isn’t very enamored with our team. We hope we can win him over before he leaves the hospital.

 “Nope, nice try….but go away.”

We are giving thanks today that all of the children who underwent surgery on Monday are recovering well. The team left the hospital late in the evening exhausted, but exhilarated, and we are ready for a very full day tomorrow.

The tentative surgery schedule for Tuesday will be:

Dr. Tollefson and team’s OR:
Joy – palate
Samuel – bilateral cleft lip
Shane – palate
Daniella – bilateral cleft lip

Dr. Tolan and team’s OR:
Allyson – palate
Violet – unilateral cleft lip
Denver – palate
Spencer – lip revision

Thank you again for all of your thoughts and prayers this week! We appreciate each and every one.  Here are a few more photos from a very special Monday.


IMG_1792Beautiful baby toes

IMG_2975Stephanie post-surgery

IMG_3042Spencer playing on the ward

JoyLovely Joy

MarybethMary Beth and her wonderful smile

Violet Sweet Violet

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