These Children Changed My Life
Last month, I traveled to China with my mother as part of the team of volunteers who helped with LWB’s 2015 Cleft Medical Exchange. I am so grateful to LWB for giving me this once in a lifetime opportunity. As someone who wants to become a doctor in addition to being adopted from China made this cleft exchange an extremely profound experience for me.
When I first arrived at the hospital in Kaifeng I was quite apprehensive. I had a general idea of my duties: play with adorable children, and possibly scrub into the OR to observe. At the same time, however, I had no idea what it was going to be like. Honestly, I didn’t know how I was going to react when I first saw the children. I had seen their photos online, but I didn’t know if in person I would be affected differently.
After setting my backpack down in the office/break room where the charts were organized and we had a spot to rest and have a bottle of water, I entered my first patient room, Love Ward 5. This room was the room where I would spend most of my time. This room was where Billy and Delia stayed.
As soon as I saw them I fell in love with them. Every morning and night, Love Ward 5 was the first and last room I visited. As sweet as it was holding the cute, beautiful, tiny babies in the other rooms, I loved playing with the toddlers and big kids, because although we weren’t able to speak the same language, I felt I had a deeper connection with them.
Bouncy balls were a huge hit with the kids. They were immediately intrigued when I’d bounce the balls on the ground and they’d spring back, or I’d juggle three of them in the air.
For Spencer, the adorable six year old boy in Love Ward 6, bubbles were a huge hit, as we chased them, popped them and tried to catch them.
The second morning of the Exchange, I was privileged to scrub in to my first surgery. I had never been into an OR, and the only OR scene I could reference was from the TV show Grey’s Anatomy. I was very excited to enter the OR and watch my first surgery. I was told if I felt nauseous to sit down or leave the room. I didn’t think I was afraid of blood, but the fact that they even asked me if I was, made me nervous.
I was able to stand right behind the surgeon on a stool because I am quite short. From there I was able to see every cut and every stitch performed by the amazing surgeons. It was incredible. It was so impressive to see how the surgeons were able to cut and sew the children’s faces back together and change them from unusual to typical. I was honored to observe eight surgeries out of about forty.
I think one of the most touching experiences I had on the trip was the interaction between Billy and Delia. I’d heard their story about coming from the same orphanage with extreme hardships, and becoming best friends like brother and sister. I could tell they always looked out and cared for each other immensely. For instance, the moment Delia came back from her surgery I saw Billy’s face and how worried he looked. His little “Mei Mei” was very subdued from her surgery and she looked different. After Billy’s surgery he was drooling a lot, and I often wiped the drool from his chin. On multiple occasions Delia would hand me more paper towels to make sure I would help Billy feel comfortable. Whenever I’d take my camera out he’d throw his arm around Delia and give me the biggest smile.
Many people before my trip asked me what feelings I thought would arise because if I had not been adopted and had remained in China, my life would have been completely different. This conceptual thought didn’t affect me as I thought it would, probably because it’s hard to imagine something that didn’t happen. I realize that had I stayed in China, my life would have been completely changed; on this trip I saw the possible outcomes my life path could have taken. I am very fortunate my American family and I found each other and I wouldn’t exchange that moment in time for anything; I couldn’t even if I wanted to.
Now that I’ve read some of the heartbreaking stories of the children, stories that at one point could have been mine, I want to make a change. This profound meeting of new people, talented and selfless medical professionals, and the incredible new experiences has made me want to become a doctor even more. Although I’m not sure if I want to become a plastic surgeon, I could be involved with other kinds of surgeries that help less fortunate children.
The happiest moments of my trip were when the children would laugh. Although they were young and some were not able to comprehend their lives, they were able to laugh and smile with and without their facial flaws, but managed to look beautiful.
John Allen was a baby who had the biggest smile I’ve ever seen . He went into and out of surgery with a smile and didn’t cry once.
Children like Delia who had endured a heart surgery, cleft surgery and is blind in one eye, is yet one of the bravest people I’ve ever met and so inspired me.
When the kids were happy, it made me happy, but when they were in pain my heart would sink. The children changed my lives, and I want a chance to change their lives.
~Jin Jackson is 17 years old and lives in Mendocino, California.