LWB Community Blog

Unsung Heroes of the Cleft Exchange

Surgeons are not the only ones who participate in our life-changing cleft exchanges! Of course, the operations would not happen without the dedicated and talented surgeons giving of their time. However, other volunteers also play a key role, and today we want to introduce you to a few who will be going on the cleft exchange next month.


Kelly Eckert, LWB’s Medical Director of Cleft Surgery and Rural Child Care, is helping select children for the cleft exchange and will be communicating with sponsors and LWB volunteers in the U.S. during the trip.  Kelly has been serving with LWB for four years and is a mother of two from Washington State.


More than anything, Kelly says, “I am looking forward to meeting the children that I’ve loved from a distance and learning more about cleft surgery in China!”

Anytime you do surgeries, of course an anesthesiologist is absolutely essential…and we have two of the best coming along with us in Dr. Kathy Clinch and Dr. Neil Derechin!


Kathy Clinch writes: I am a resident of the Twin Cities in MN. I have been married 24 years (we celebrate our 24th while I am in Kaifeng) and have two daughters, Kim (age 19) and Andrea (age 17). I have been on missions for cleft lip and palate in Zimbabwe, Peru and China; this will be my seventh mission trip. I have had the pleasure of introducing and sharing mission work with both my daughters. Mission work helps you see the uniqueness yet commonality of our world: families caring for their kids. The adventure of being part of their lives and learning so much from our families and our colleagues in other global locations…that is priceless!

Dr Neil Derechin is a  anesthesiologist and pediatrician from Minnesota.   Last fall the American Board of Anesthesiology had the first ever exam for subspecialty certification in pediatric anesthesiology, and Dr Derechin was among the first group of physicians to be certified. We are very happy and excited to have a doctor with his skills joining us again.


Dr. Derechin writes:  I have been going on overseas medical trips for the past 25 years with a specific interest in improving health care for children in Peru, China, Uganda, and Fiji. My wife and I have two daughters adopted from China, and it is very meaningful to me to help other children in need in China.

Meg Brannagan, RN, is LWB’s Associate Director of Cleft Surgery. Meg will help with monitoring the babies in recovery and updating sponsors.  Meg is also a mother of three children and hails from Nebraska.  Meg is starting her third year as a volunteer with LWB.


Meg says, “I am so excited to be going to China this year to help with LWB’s Cleft Exchange! I am a registered nurse with a background in pediatrics, so I hope I can use some of these skills on the trip. My sons were born with cleft lip and palate, and their initial cleft repairs made such a difference for them. I’m looking forward to being a part of that for more children in China…maybe even someone else’s future child.”

Nancy Williams, LWB’s Information Services Director and Associate Director of Human Resources, is our tech genius from Ohio and will help take care of paperwork and other computer-related jobs.  Nancy is also a school teacher, mother of two, and has volunteered with LWB for seven years.

Heartbridge Blaise and Nancy

Nancy writes: As a mother to two daughters from China, being a volunteer for LWB since 2007 provides an opportunity for me to give back to those still in need. Having been born with a cleft palate myself, I know how life changing these surgeries can be. Once having been the child having surgery, I know the importance of comforting pre- and post-surgery and hope to be able to provide that to these little ones. Of course, one of the other unsung heroes is my husband, who will hold down the fort at home while I’m in China and is so supportive of this work.

will gealey

Last but not least is Will Thompson, the 22-year-old son of Maureen Gealey.  Will is a busy guy who always has time for his little sisters!  He is looking forward to seeing more of the country where they were born and using his skills as Emergency Medical Technician and phlebotomist to help the children having surgery in Kaifeng.

These volunteers, as well as the nurses at the hospital, play a key role in monitoring the children’s progress before and after surgery and the most-coveted position of comforter.  All of the babies coming will be in wonderful and loving hands!

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