LWB Community Blog

Third Surgery Day of the 2017 Cambodia Medical Exchange

Hello again from Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where our medical exchange team had another productive day.  First up was morning rounds — a great time to check on all the kids. For those of you who may be new to cleft operations, we’ll just say that recovery from palate surgery is often quite painful. Simply put – it hurts. During this week in Cambodia, we’ve been amazed at how quickly most of our patients have bounced right back after surgery.

Maeve and her adorable smile even after palate surgery

While repairing a child’s cleft palate might not look as dramatic as repairing the lip, closing a hole in the roof of one’s mouth is so essential. Left untreated, children with open palates face problems with eating and gaining weight, chronic ear infections, and most of all, normal speech development.  We know that the palate repair surgeries done this week will have such a positive impact on each child’s future.

Polly had palate surgery as well

We had lots of discharges today, including little Eden. While we know her mouth was still really sore, she sweetly managed to give us a little wave goodbye.

Trystan was supposed to go home yesterday, but he had spiked a fever after his surgery and needed additional time to recover. Today he was given the green light to head home as well, and we wish this wonderful 14-year-old every possible blessing in the future.

We also reluctantly said farewell to Willow today, because she’s just so much fun to snuggle.  What a gorgeous baby girl who is absolutely adored by her family.

Silas got to head home with his family as well. Look out world – this boy has big dreams!

Sue continues to recover well, and we know you’ll all agree that her repair looks amazing. What a sleeping beauty!

Sue’s big brother Ben had a smaller surgery today to revise the lip repair he received as a baby, and he remained brave throughout the whole procedure. Sue and Ben’s mom is actually Chinese, so we’re going to take that as a little red thread connecting our China cleft trips with this one.

Baby Avery gave everyone a bit of a scare. During morning rounds, doctors noticed that a small piece of gauze that had been placed in her nostril for some mild bleeding was no longer there. So the question that had to be asked was whether she had pulled the gauze out or pushed it up.  Not wanting to take any chances that the gauze had went up her nose, Avery found herself back heading back to the OR this morning so the doctors could do a quick check.

Thankfully the gauze was quickly found and removed — phew! Shortly afterwards, Avery was discharged and on her way home.

Today it was Kenzie’s turn to have her cleft lip surgery done, and she remained in a good mood while waiting. Grandma told us that Kenzie is such a happy and easygoing baby, but she said Kenzie didn’t sleep well last night at the hospital because she’s used to sleeping in a hammock instead of a bed.

Kenzie getting a hug from Dr. Clinch before heading to the OR 

We’re happy to report that Kenzie did beautifully during her operation and understandably decided that the best thing post-surgery is a nice long nap.

We also had a new family arrive hoping that their six-month-old son could receive surgery for his cleft lip. Meet little Everett, who has some serious Elvis hair.

This adorable little guy was originally not very impressed with our team, but eventually he agreed to share one of his wonderful smiles.

Yesterday we introduced you to Grace, a shy 16-year-old from the northwest mountain region near Thailand.

This beautiful young lady is the only child of rice farmers and has never gone to school because she’s too shy about her cleft.  Her father learned of our cleft team after Smile Cambodia sent an advertisement to their rural village, and he knew they needed to make the very long journey so his daughter could finally have a chance at a better future.

Grace and her father

Because Grace’s family is from a minority group in Cambodia, they don’t speak Khmer, which made it very difficult to communicate and gather more information about their circumstances. Despite this challenge, Grace had no problem making it crystal clear that she definitely wanted surgery. She fearlessly walked back to the OR before laying herself down on the table. Her father more than made up for her calmness by being extremely nervous in the waiting area.

Because Grace returned to the ward so late in the day following surgery, we only took one quick photo in the recovery room.

Your support of this trip will make such an incredible difference in her life from this point forward. We’re so happy we could be here for her!

The final case for Dr. Tollefson today was Lee, one of the young adults he met during Intake Day. When Lee was just eight years old, he was playing with some friends and found a container of gunpowder. They passed it among themselves, and then it tragically exploded into Lee’s face. His sister ran over with water, but his face and clothes continued to burn.  She carried him to the hospital, and his eyes were still smoking even as the medical team tried to help him. Lee stayed in the hospital for three months receiving treatment for his complex third-degree burns, but he never had a single surgery or skin graft.

When Lee’s neighbors saw an ad that our team was coming to Phnom Penh, they told his sisters to bring him to the hospital.

As the doctors evaluated Lee, they learned he could no longer close his eye due to scar tissue. Without surgery he would go blind. Dr. Tollefson was able to take skin grafts from behind and in front of his ears to patch his upper and lower eyelids. We hope this will help save Lee’s sight.

Hannah, a CNA on our medical team, was with Lee when he woke up from surgery. He began to cry sharing his poignant story and how traumatic it has been to live for so long with his burns. He said he had come to Phnom Penh hoping doctors could “repair his face,” because he dreams of someday getting married. Lee told Hannah he was so grateful, however, to have even one surgery to help his eye and appearance.

Doing these trips always takes an emotional toll as there are so many times we aren’t able to do more to help. Families tell us stories of immense poverty and not having access to medical care, and we wish there was some magic way to take away their burdens. The reality, though, is that sometimes all we can do is truly listen.  One of our most basic needs as humans is to connect with one another, isn’t it?

We know there often aren’t easy answers to the complex problems far too many face. Sometimes, when people are struggling, all we can do is reach out with kindness to let them know they aren’t alone.

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  • Joanne Owyang says:

    The pictures bring tears to my eyes. I love the work LWB does. Every child counts. Every single one.

  • Ann Arvidsson Renström says:

    Dessa vackra, fina barn, jag är så glad över allt arbete ni gör, att ni ger så mycket glädje och kärlek till människor ni aldrig mött. Att de får ett nytt liv.

  • Elisa Criden says:

    Grace She looks beautiful. What a life changing day for her

  • Heather says:

    I just love the picture of Grace & her father…this procedure will make such a difference for her!