LWB Community Blog

The 2019 Cleft Medical Exchange: Meet Our Team!

This year’s Cleft Medical Exchange in Lanzhou, Gansu, China is a blending of previous and new team members. We are so thankful to have both those who are returning and those who are joining us for the first time as they each bring their unique skills, experiences, and passion for helping children to this exchange.

Some of you might remember that Dr. Lisa Buckmiller adopted a little girl named Gong Lu from China whom LWB helped bring to the US for medical care in 2006. (The remarkable story of Gong Lu is told in the LWB book, The Heart of an Orphan.) Dr. Buckmiller is an ENT-otolaryngologist with the Children’s Hospital of San Antonio with over 20 years of experience and will be the lead surgeon on this year’s Cleft Exchange.

Not only is Dr. Buckmiller the lead surgeon on this year’s Cleft Exchange, but her daughter Gong Lu (who now goes by Anna) will be traveling with her mom to Lanzhou to volunteer on this year’s cleft trip! Anna will meet with the director of her orphanage who accompanied her to the US for surgery, and we know that will be a very special reunion indeed.

Gong Lu and Dr. Buckmiller were featured on the Today Show with Katie Couric many years ago, and everyone who watched fell in love with this outgoing little girl. Watch a brief synopsis of Gong Lu’s surgery here:

Is it any wonder that they ended up as mother and daughter?

Several members of this year’s team would like to share just a bit about themselves and why they decided to join our Cleft team this summer.

Dr. Alexandra Shams Ortiz (Resident Observing) writes:  I am a 4th year ENT resident at San Antonio Military Medical Center. I have had the pleasure to learn from Dr. Buckmiller as a resident at Children’s Hospital of San Antonio and am eager to continue to learn cleft lip and palate surgical techniques from her.

I have done multiple humanitarian and cultural exchange programs to Sub-Saharan Africa and India, but this trip to China will be my first experience with medical missions/ surgical exchange programs specifically. I hope to pursue a career in facial plastic and reconstructive surgery and do work internationally in the future, so I am very excited about this opportunity!

Nancy Williams (LWB team member) writes:  I’ve been a volunteer with LWB since 2007, initially as an education program coordinator through a number of other roles to my current position of Information Services Manager. I have two daughters adopted from China in 2002 and 2007 which is my connection to China.

Having a cleft palate myself and undergoing unsuccessful repair surgeries until age 5, I have a strong emotional connection to the families and children dealing with this special need. I was fortunate to ultimately get a prosthesis and speech therapy that let me live a totally normal life. I know personally how life-changing this repair can be. I’m delighted to play a small part in the LWB Cleft Exchange this year.

Casey Sacia (Floor Nurse) writes:  I am a boy mom. James is 10 and Lee is 8. I have been married to my husband, Brian, for 13 years. We live in a small town in South Central Kentucky very close to Mammoth Cave NP.

I am a women’s health nurse practitioner. I absolutely love my job. I became interested in nursing while interpreting for a medical team in Guatemala. I felt a call to give back to LWB as I have a very strong connection to the organization. My youngest son, Lee, had a cleft lip and palate repair through LWB before we adopted him six years ago. Lee is from Harbin City, China. I am thrilled to be a part of this team and look forward to serving the families and children in China.

Nadia Kane (Translator & Assistant on Ward Floor) writes:  I was adopted from China and came to the US at age 7. I recently graduated from University of Minnesota with B.S. in biology in 2017, and now I am pursuing a career in medicine.

My work as medical assistant at the UMN Cleft Palate-Craniofacial Clinic gave me the opportunity to learn about clefts from my mentors. I am passionate about volunteering for organizations that advocate for children in China such as Love Without Boundaries. In 2018, I joined as translation specialist and recently took up the position of OSS Program Coordinator Assistant. On this Cleft Medical Exchange, I hope to not only learn more about cleft but also use my skills to make an impact on the kids and families we will be seeing.

Adam Davis (LWB Team Member) writes: My wife, Brandi, and I have been married for 9 years and have four wonderful children together. 

I began volunteering with LWB only recently but have been a supporter of the amazing work they do for much longer. I’m excited to be a part of this year’s team and cannot wait to put this amazing week on film.

Stephanie Gonzalez (OR Nurse) writes:  I have been a registered nurse in New Hampshire for 18 years and have been a labor and delivery nurse for the past 13 years. I have an amazing husband and three boys who are 19, 15, and 9. We have amazing friends who have two adopted children from China. Because of them, I found the LWB website and I was so excited to see the need for a nurse.

This is my first medical trip, and I cannot wait to volunteer my time to help improve the lives of these children and their families. I am really looking forward to meeting everyone and to be part of this amazing experience!

Debbie Rogers (PACU Nurse) writes:  I live in Edmond, Oklahoma and have two sons in college in addition to a very supportive husband. I have worked as a Neonatal Nurse Practitioner for 25 years. I love taking care of sick babies and supporting their families along the way!

I have no affiliation with China but have supported Love with Boundaries’ work for years now. I have always wanted to do a medical mission, but work and family have made it difficult for me to take the time for such an endeavor — until now, that is! I’m finally at a point in my life that I can start to step out of my comfort zone and begin helping others in ways I’ve only dreamt about! I can’t wait to meet and work alongside everyone.

Jean Gabarra (LWB Team Member) writes:  I have spent the last 20 years working in technology at Microsoft, most recently focused on how technology, including the cloud and artificial intelligence/machine learning, can improve healthcare. My passions include enabling people with disabilities and learning about China so I can be a good parent for my son and daughter who are adopted from China.

My son is actually from Lanzhou, the same city as our Cleft Medical Exchange. This will be my second Cleft Medical Exchange there, and I look forward to bringing all my learnings from last time to help the team make a difference.

Brandi Davis (LWB Team Leader) writes: I am looking forward to returning to Lanzhou this summer for the LWB Cleft Medical Exchange. Last year’s exchange was an amazing experience. It is so humbling to meet each of the families hoping their children can be healed during the week. To see the joy on the faces of the families who hear confirmation that their child will have surgery, and to feel the absolute heartbreak of a family who is told “no” – even though it is often just a “no” until the child is older or weighs more – is something that changes you. I will carry those moments with me forever.

Being a part of this team and seeing the amazing work they will do during the week is such an honor. And none of this would be possible if it weren’t for the amazing donors who believe so much in the work we are doing.

As of today, 18 out of 30 cleft surgeries are funded. Each full surgery sponsorship costs $1,000, and partial sponsorships in any amount are also welcomed. Your donation will bring the gift of healing to babies and children with cleft needs and demonstrate our shared belief that “Every Child Counts.”

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