Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Our final day........

Our morning was started off as most mornings had, with discharging patients. It was a day filled with mixed emotions for our team members. Extreme happiness to see so many children smiling and feeling so much better before they left, and yet tears for all of us to see them go.

We all wondered, how many times you can fall in love with a child? We saw it happen so many times this week. There were just so many wonderful children we met. We discharged 16 children today and all of them went home with their families or with their caretakers. The teenage girl who had been burned was so incredibly warm and kind to her nurses. A true friendship had been formed and they have all vowed to stay in touch. We translated a small note she had wrote to them, telling them how much she loved them and how thankful she was.

Our bubbly and adorable five year old girl left today with her family. Her hair had been put up in brightly colored pigtails and she was grinning from ear to ear today. It is hard to believe that only two days ago she had her palate repaired and she already has a smile on her face.

Our tiniest patients also were released. Our teenage girls on our team have been so taken with these young babies and held and rocked them until the last minute. They just couldn't stop smiling whenever they were holding them. We know these children felt the love from these girls.

One single mother was so gratful for her four year old son's palate repair, that her tears never stopped flowing this morning. She must have thanked all of our team members a hundred times. Even our younger children were waving and grinning as they left the orphanage. One by one we saw them all leave, onto their new lives.

After the last child was released, we quickly finished the task of tearing down the ward. Within just a few hours, it was complete. As the remaining team members walked from the orphanage, we all left with very full hearts. We realized how exhausting this week had been, but how INCREDIBLY rewarding it was.
In the afternoon, our entire team spent the day touring the beautiful city of Louyang. We all needed this time to relax and process all that we had seen and experienced this week. We visited the Longmen Grotto Caves along a beautiful river and saw a beautiful old temple and all did some shopping. We realized how important this time was for our team to reconnect as a group before we leave tomorrow.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

We appreciate your patience in waiting for Team 2’s blog reports. We had so many computer problems in China, but we can now update everyone on the remaining days of our trip.

Today, (Thursday) is our last day of surgeries and we have a light schedule. All of our children are lip patients and we have four tiny babies from the Louyang orphanage. These four little ones have stolen the hearts of many of our team members. We are continually hearing, “I want this one” and “No, that is my baby”. These children sure are loved by all of us.

Our second burn patient, a beautiful teenage girl, has also found a special place in our hearts. She has encountered such tragedy in her life, yet her spirit is still so strong and her smile warms your heart when you meet her. She is making fast friends with all of us and it will be hard to see her leave tomorrow. We all wish we could do so much more and follow so many of these children and help enrich their lives.

As our surgical staff and PACU nurses finished the last surgeries, there was great satisfaction among us all. Between both Team 1 and Team 2, we have changed the lives of over 100 children. How amazing is that! Our medical staff left the orphanage for some much needed down time. They have all worked so incredibly hard this week and have given so much to all of the children they have met.

There were many, many tears today, as we discharged our patients from yesterday’s surgeries. The majority of our patients were rural families. We have several single fathers who had found abandoned boys who were cleft affected. One father found a small boy in a knee deep field of grass. Another father found an older disabled boy wandering the streets and has taken him home. These amazing men have taken these children in and loved them like their own sons. The stories they have shared about their love for these children has touched us all. The long journeys they have made to bring their children so they can receive surgery shows what commitment they have. They are so caring and nurturing to these children. Truly, truly incredible men!!

Our “essentials” team quickly went into action to begin to break our surgical ward down. Supplies had to be boxed, medical equipment was put into bags for team members to return this to the US, and the ward was cleaned and prepared for future teams who may use the unit. We were amazed at how quickly this process went.

We received a wonderful treat from the Director of the orphanage tonight. We all enjoyed a wonderful Chinese dinner and then were brought back to the orphanage, where a huge stage had been set up in from of the orphanage. We were entertained for several hours with cultural dances and singing. The children’s choir from the orphanage performed, along with several special needs children. A beautiful swan dance was performed by a young man with only one leg……it was amazing. The young children made us all smile with their animal sound songs and dance. It was a wonderful way to end a long week of surgeries.

We have one more day in Louyang and then the team will be returning home. We know it will be hard to say good bye to so many wonderful people and children we have met.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Day 4 for Luoying team 2. We all are feeling the exhaustion factor and we have had some really hard cases this past 24 hours. Many children come in frightened, of course, and we have had a few real tigers today. Poor babies, walking into a strange building and giving over their very lives to the hands of strangers who look, talk, smell and act differently than anyone they have ever seen in their little lives. They are so vulnerable.

Of course, then there are the exceptions to that with the children who make friends everywhere they go. Our little Due from Xinjiang is such an example. We all had such a hard time today saying goodbye to her. She has won all of our hearts. She made her rounds to say goodbye to everyone and gave many hugs and kisses along the way. We all wish we could bring her home.
It was goodbye day for Cui also, and everyone on staff made the effort to come out to hug her and say goodbye. She is now a beautiful girl with a beautiful smile and a chance for a future. This one child is worth it all. She will do something wonderful. You just know that when you are in her presence. She has something great to accomplish in her lifetime. We are so lucky to have been such a small part of her future.

Our orphanage kids are really warming up to the staff and making friends along the way. One little boy from the older kids floor has taken over the recovery room and has the nurses in stitches all the time. Today Nancy gave him her surgical hat and stethoscope and he was definitely one happy camper. The look on his face said "HEY, I AM IN CHARGE HERE!!!" We were all cracking up and rolling on the floor. This is what is making memories for us all. These little moments of intimate contact with another world that opens its doors for the good of the children.

Tomorrow is our last day of surgery. We have been incredibly busy so we are looking forward to slowing down, but we have also been so intensely involved in this venture that we know it will leave a huge hole in our hearts to break our unit down. We know it cannot go on forever, but in many ways we wish it were not the end. We all talk about beginnings rather than endings. That is the gift that this mission has given to us all.

Team Two is once again having internet difficulties. Thank you for understanding that this is beyond their control. They had another successful day of surgeries and we are all looking forward to hearing the stories of the last two days.

Until they are back online, please enjoy some of the photos from Team One. 110 children have been healed. One team member who just returned, told me this wonderful story. She said that the 16 year old boy with unrepaired cleft lip had very successful surgery. That first night, he asked the night nurse to tell him which of the babies had looked like him before surgery. When she pointed out a small child, he sat next to that baby's bed with his hand on the little one for an hour or so .

We are all still processing all of the emotions and stories we experienced while in China. There was daily laughter and daily tears, daily problems to solve and daily moments where we celebrated the beauty of these children.

We hope that the next installment will arrive tomorrow! Until then, enjoy the photos. Most are of the children, but I couldn't resist adding one of the teeth of Henan (all extracted from our dentist....ouch!)

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Day Three for team two…..where to start? The best place would be at the beginning of our day.
As our team enters the orphanage, we are always greeted at the gate by several families hoping to receive medical care for their child. For these families, seeing an American medical team gives them a glimmer of hope for their son or daughter.

As the team quickly heads up to the surgical floor, we are stopped by a local mother holding her four year old boy. She rushes to us to show us her beautiful son, Qian. We recognize her as she had come the day before hoping for a palate surgery for him. We had asked her to return today to be evaluated, as our surgery slots are quickly filling up and we can only accept a few more children. Her eyes immediately well up with tears and she begins to sob uncontrollably. The boy, who is worried for his mother, now begins to cry also. We assured her we will try and fit her child into our schedule after he is evaluated. But her emotions took over and it was difficult to calm her. As her crying escalates, the screening room quickly fills up with other patients who are needing to have blood work and screening for their surgeries. You could feel the intensity in the room, as we begin to sort out the children. And so our day has begins…..

The most difficult part of our job is choosing what children receive surgery. Every child we see is deserving. Every single one. We review every child and try and fit the child into our criteria. Our second child today was so tiny, so we weigh the baby…….only 9 pounds. We know this child has to be 10 pounds. We quickly say we had better check the scales, maybe they are wrong. Maybe they are a little off. We know we only need one more pound and the baby might qualify. We weigh the baby again…..still 9 pounds. We tell the father who has brought him, the baby is too small, he doesn’t weigh enough. He quickly puts on the child’s coat and then another coat and places the child back on the scale, with a hopeful grin. We apologize and tell him we can not give his child surgery. He quietly takes his child and leaves the room, with tears rolling down his cheeks. He graciously smiles and walks away. The pain we all shared with this father was intense. As our own tears began to flow, we all felt we wish we could do more. If only we could do one more.

And so we continue on. We meet every family and hear their story. We look into the eyes of every child……those beautiful dark eyes. We weigh, and measure and listen and talk. And then, another child is selected for surgery. What a moment this is!! We share the excitement and overwhelming joy with every family who is chosen. These are our happiest moments. Every family is so thankful and kind. We know the surgery their child will receive will change their life forever.

As our morning continues, the surgical area is bustling with activity. Our recovery area if filled with children and their families who will be discharged today.

Children who will soon leave and begin a new step in their life. In the same room, we have 10 children who received surgery the day before and are being comforted by their parents and caregivers. And standing at the doorway are eager eyes of the children who wait for today’s surgeries. Ten new children. The nurses and "essentials" (as we now call our non medical people) quickly go to their assigned area. Our wonderful night shift is ready to leave, as a new group is coming on to help. Our doctors begin making rounds and evaluating the patients. Our surgical team and PACU nurses quickly prepare for the days upcoming surgeries.

A few special team members start out their day by shopping for a new outfit for Cui Cui to wear home tomorrow when she is discharged? All our loving moms wanted to see her dressed in something new and wonderful to start her new life.

We stand back and look at this process and are in awe. In only two days, a total group of strangers has come together from all over the United States, giving of their time and money to help these children. This week has shown us all what the power of love has and what miracles love can accomplish.

Team 2 9/20/05

Monday, September 19, 2005

Day three for team 2 has brought many wonderful surprises. Our team is well oiled today and working like clockwork. Drs. Argenta, David and Sanger have done work today that has made much magic. Today was surgery day for our little girl from Xinjiang who has a facial deformity which has misshapen her beautiful little face and caused an ear deformity that is quite severe. She is absolutely beautiful and has the personality that would melt huge icebergs! Dr. Argenta did a side cleft repair on her mouth which none of us had ever seen. Her cleft was to the side of her jaw rather than the top and it had caused a lot of pulling and misshaping of her face. She came out of surgery with a smile on her face and a perfect relaxed lip and cheek for the first time in her life. We gave her a mirror when she came into the recovery room and she just glowed. Even though she was in some big pain she was one happy little girl!! We all had to leave the room and shed tears to see that kind of pure happiness.

Next up on the miracle list was Dr. David’s surgery on the severe burn survivor. This young man was orphaned when a fireworks factory sadly exploded and killed his entire family as well as burning him over a large part of his body. The surgery that he is receiving is to close his eye sockets to prevent further damage to his eyes. His scarring is very severe and we all wish there was more that we could do for him. Dr. David and Argenta will make a cast to carry back to the US to make a mask for him to wear that will hopefully lessen the scarring over a period of time. We are all praying that it will help. He is a quiet little boy who has already been through so very much in his short life.

The children are sailing through surgery today. We are much better organized today and our nurses are watching the children in the ward so closely. They are helping the kids drink as much as possible as the more hydrated a child is, the less pain they have. The kids are literally bounding up by the next morning. Even the doctors are impressed.

Our greatest story today is about Cui Cui. Cui Cui is a young girl 19 years old whose peasant father brought to the orphanage seeking a repair for his daughter who he obviously adores. She has been the dearest young woman and she has touched all of our hearts. We cannot wait to see how beautiful she is when she is done with surgery. She had a very severe bi-lateral cleft which I am sure has caused her much pain and teasing. In spite of her cleft she just shines with goodness and kindness and we have all fallen head over heels in love with her. Last night we found that Cui Cui is sitting soon for her college board exams. She will be graduating this year and is a top student in her class. Her father is so proud of her and has devoted his life to his three children who he says will all graduate from college to break the circle of poverty. He is a humble and inspirational man who has brought most of us to tears in admiration of his spirit.

As a group, all of team two has bonded to make this girl’s dreams come true and have decided to sponsor Cui Cui’s education and her future. We have agreed to start a fund so that next year when she starts school she will have all the funding she needs to achieve her dream of a degree in science and engineering. She is brilliant. I am so proud of this team and their spirit. Cui Cui has brought a spirit to our team that we could never have found without her. Her father fell to his knees thanking us for this honor. We fell to our knees thanking him for the honor of being allowed to participate in his dream.

Team 2 – 9/19/05

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Greetings from Beautiful Luoyang where the legend of the peonies and the history of the temples is reason enough to visit. Known as the city of temples, Luoyang is one of China's ancient capitol cities. The people of Luoyang are very kind and caring and have made us feel welcome already. The children here are beautiful. Today is Sunday and they are out playing and enjoying their day out of school.

Team 2 has arrived and we are making things happen! Thanks to all the many hard workers of team one who stayed on longer to transition us over smoothly. We are beginning to get our stride set and things are moving along. Our wonderful doctors and nurses are already hard at work with 14 children today. We have seen the miracles at work just in our first day.

One young mother arrived early this morning having come from quite a distance with her own mother and her beautiful little girl with cleft lip and palate. Now this may sound like business as usual, but the mother could not speak and her daughter was blind as well as a cleft child. The grandmother was so pleased that we are able to give her granddaughter the opportunity her mother had to communicate and have a chance for a good future.Every day we have come to the orphanage to find groups of parents with their children standing at the gates waiting to try to talk with our staff. We have tried to see and speak to them all, but how heart-breaking to have to say "we are over our limit of surgeries for the week". We all keep trying to add "Just one more" and so far we have found a way to make that happen. It is an unspoken sadness that within 24 hours we will have to say "no more". None of us want to be the one to draw that line. If it were up to our awesome doctors, we would go on until the last minute. Thursday night will come too quickly I know...

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Time Flies When Lives Are Being Changed
Thursday September 15 & Friday September 16, 2005

I have to apologize for not being able to blog yesterday. Thursday and Friday blended into one 48 hour day, and there just wasn't a spare moment to write. There were just too many amazing stories to list them all at once. To do so would turn a blog into an actual book.

Thursday morning got off to a great start, and the surgeries started early in the morning. When we were discharging patients, we saw out of the corner of our eye one momma packing up her bag. She and her daughter were there one moment and gone the next. We found her still up on the patient ward floor, and tried to explain that she could NOT leave until she was properly discharged. Well, as soon as we turned our backs to discharge another patient, she and her daughter disappeared. They must have snuck down the back stairs. When we noticed that she was missing and knew that she had not received her discharge orders, we sent Todd out to look for her. He ran down six flights of stairs and looked both ways for them, to no avail. He came up and told us she was gone.

About an hour later, when we were discharging the last patient for that day, Todd just happened to be looking out the sixth floor window and suddenly he yelled, “THAT'S HER!” and we all quickly looked out. Sure enough, she and her momma were walking on the street below. We all started screaming “GO! GO! GO!” and Todd took off like superman down the stairs with us singing the Mission Impossible theme for special effects. This time he caught our little escapee and she was properly discharged and all instructions for post op care were given in Chinese. WHEW!

We discharged 10 more patients, and only had one other small glitch when the older elevator in the orphanage broke down with some orphanage aunties and their babies inside. Thankfully that problem was solved quickly and we were able to get them out and safely down to the first floor.

The last 48 hours have been VERY emotional to all of us as the numbers of children coming to see our team continue to increase. All of the team was crying when a peasant farmer arrived in Luoyang with his six year old daughter who has complex bilateral cleft lip. The father told us that he had found the little girl six years ago as a baby, and that he had decided to take her in and be her father. He told us that when he had decided to send her to school this year, she was beaten by the bullies in school for looking so different. So he stopped sending her to school and now she works the fields with him each day. He asked if she could have surgery that day, and when it was explained that the surgeries for Friday were full, and no surgeries would take place on Saturday as the teams switched, the father became very sad. He explained that he had to leave his crops in order to come and they would not survive without him. We promised this man that she could have surgery on Sunday, and asked for his phone number so that we could contact him. He had never used a telephone before. He told us that he could not stay for surgery on Sunday, because his fields needed to be worked. We offered to keep the little girl with us on her own so he could return back to his fields, and so he agreed to ask the little girl if that would be okay. When asked, the little girl got very sad and said “please don't leave me.” So this father, who loves his adopted daughter so much, chose to help her over his work.

An 11-12 year old girl also walked in off the street, and asked if she could be healed. When the team told her that she could definitely have surgery, she began to cry because she could not believe that her face would finally be healed. We told her and her dad to please go back to their home and we would call them, but yet again, there is no phone. The mom stayed behind to work the fields while she sent her husband and daughter off on the long journey to Luoyang. We have no way to contact her. It brings tears to my eyes to think of this peasant mother waiting back at home, working in the a mother myself, I am sure every moment of the day she is wondering “will they choose her? Can my daughter finally be helped?” Isn't it a wonderful thought to think of this man and his daughter walking up the path to their house and greeting the momma once she is healed. How I wish I could be there that day!

Another couple arrived with a little baby girl that they had recently adopted. We were all so touched that this family had chosen a girl with cleft to adopt. The interesting thing is that they very proudly pulled out their adoption decree and it is the same exact one that international adoptive families receive!I just have to mention that the local people in Luoyang have been so incredibly kind to our team, and they want to help in any way possible. So many people have seen the newspaper article, and have shown up asking how they can help our team, even though they have no money to give. A woman who runs a small laundry shop up the street from the orphanage came to see us and told us she was so touched that she wanted to do all of our patient bedding and towels for us. She only wanted the cost that it took to wash them, so it was 80% cheaper than the first laundry store we were using. A taxi driver came up to the orphanage and told us he also felt that he had to help these children, and so he offered to be “on call” outside the orphanage to drive us for free when needed.

And then there is the art. As most of you know, we hold an annual art auction to raise funds for heart surgeries. We are coming home with some truly spectacular pieces, and they were given to us to help orphans. In the hotel lobby there is an art shop, and the owner of the store is actually the head of the city arts council. She has been so touched by our team helping the children that she told us she wanted to donate one of her peony paintings. We assumed she meant a small picture. When we went to speak with her and pick up the picture, she presented our foundation with a painted horizontal scroll that took four people to unroll. We took a photo of four of our team members standing behind it to hold it up. It is one of the most beautiful paintings of Chinese flowers I have ever seen. I hope it heals a heart baby next year!

One of our translators is a young man named Daniel who is a graduate of a fine arts college. We have become very good friends with him. When we found out that his main job is to be an artist, we told him about how we heal children with art. The next day he brought his portfolio to us, and we learned that he does oil paintings of landscapes and people. They are AMAZING. He said he would be honored to donate to our auction and that he would ask his friends from the art school to do the same. So the cleft mission will end up also helping to heal children with heart disease.I also have to put in a huge thank you to our dedicated nurses. I may not have mentioned it, but we had several of them succumb to what we think was food poisoning. And yet they kept wanting to help. Just to give you an example, one nurse (Teresa) was severely ill one day, but she asked to be hooked up to an IV. She took 3 IV bags of fluid and then was right back on the job. The dedication of these team members is something to experience. The love they have developed for the orphans in Luoyang is so touching. They decided to pool their money and buy MiaoMiao, the older orphan helping us, a new bicycle as hers had been stolen.

Some of our team members had the best time on Thursday night. They took the older orphans out to McDonalds for their first Happy Meal. It was so cute because many of them had on new shirts for this special outing, and the shirts still had the creases from the packaging they were in. Kerry Dixon, who helped arrange this, told me that they did not know what to do with the hamburgers, and most crinkled up their noses at the idea of eating meat on bread. But they LOVED the French Fries! She said they were so artistic. With each French fry they ate, they would take their ketchup packet and squeeze out a doodle or design on each one. Kerry said it was just amazing because sometimes it is hard to take even two kids to McDonalds, and they took a whole bus and the kids sat still in their seats and were so polite.

The hardest part of the last few days has been turning people away. These farmers want to heal their children so desperately, and my heart goes out to them because I would do the exact same thing for my child. We had to make up a sheet saying “we are sorry, but your child cannot be seen by our team. We are only accepting palate patients at this point who are age five and under”. One dad received the news began crying. He said, “please take my son.....he is just two years over, and we are too poor to ever help him.” The mom also got on her knees and was begging. There just are not enough days left to do every patient. It has broken all of our hearts. We have had such complete highs and such complete lows. All of us were crying when a woman came with a 28 day old baby who was soon to become an orphan if the cleft was not repaired. The mom was crying so hard asking us to help her keep her baby. She said “I love my little girl, please help me keep my little girl.” But even in the US, her baby would be too small for cleft surgery. She was crying so very hard and kissing her baby's forehead, and so we made the decision that we had to pay for her surgery locally. It is very hard to realize that we will most likely never know the outcome of this woman and her child. We sent her away with enough funds to go to the hospital in 2 more months when the baby would be old enough, but she had told us that she was getting so much pressure to not keep this little girl who had cleft.

These are the stories.....this is what we have lived and felt all the way to the center of our hearts. These are Chinese families who cherish their children and who are desperate to see them be healed so that they are not ostracized in their villages. We have helped so many...60 children healed as of Friday night......and yet I think all us are feeling like we just didn't do enough. It was an impossible task. And so once again we come back to our motto.....that every child counts. And I hope that each of our team members can look back on this mission and know that the 60 children that Team One transformed are 60 beautiful little blessings. We worked as late as we could could each night, but there are still so many waiting. So we must take joy in the 60, yet our hearts will never forget the many, many more who came all the way to Luoyang with such hope. They have touched our lives forever.

This is my last post from China. As I type this, Team One is at the airport getting ready to start the long journey home. Team 2 arrived in Beijing last night, and are on their way to Luoyang today to start surgeries on Sunday. I pray that their time in China is as awe inspiring and life impacting as ours was. Thank you again for taking them time to read our journals and to follow along on our journey.

Touching lives, one child at a time......THIS IS OUR STORY OF HOPE.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

This report is from Wednesday. We apologize for the internet problems. I had typed up a complete blog entry that was very long and detailed and when I went to upload it, something happened to our internet connection and I lost it all. At 1 a.m., after an 18 hour day, that is not what you want to happen. I hope I can remember some of the highlights....after another day of surgery it seems like a week ago! I will try my best. We will call this section: "Ring ring…..Ring ring……. "

Can you guess how many times a cell phone can ring in one day? If you guessed thousands and thousands, you would have guessed right. At least that is how it has seemed today after our phone number was published in the paper. We learned today that the circulation of the newspapers we were in is approximately 11 million people. Eleven. For those of you unfamiliar with China, the Henan province is the most populous in all of China, with over 100 million people. Today I think we heard from a lot of them!

Every time our facilitator would hang up from one call, another would immediately come in. Whenever she got busy helping out one of our team, when she returned to her phone it would say “Missed Calls: 45” or “Missed Calls: 92”. When people couldn’t reach her on the cell, they began text messaging, and they would explain in detail why their child needed to be seen by our team. The word overwhelming doesn’t begin to describe it. It would be impossible for our team to see even a fraction of the children whose ayis and parents called. This was very, very hard for our team to know.

Wednesday morning began with our first shift discharging the next set of patients to go home. Once again, there were already tears in the early a.m. as both the aunties and our team members shared tears of joy over the looks of the new babies, yet tears of sadness over knowing that we were saying goodbye to these children whom we had gotten to know and love for the three days they were with our team. The Guangxi aunties all wanted to have a photo with Karen Mai, our main facilitator, and the foster moms were so emotional when they thanked us for helping their babies. We said goodbye to them, but then unfortunately they quickly came back. We had one to keep one baby in the ward for 24 extra hours since he had developed a small infection around his incision, and because of that they had missed their train the day before. When they had gone to the train station today, they discovered that ALL train seats were sold out for five days. They were so concerned over how they would get home. At first we thought they could fly home, but then we discovered that they did not have the proper identification for the babies to take a plane. Finally after many phone calls and discussion, it was decided that a van would drive them to Zhengzhou, two hours away, where they could catch a train back to Guangxi.

The mom who had wanted to have a single photo of her child was next up to our discharge desk. This is the most wonderful family. The grandmother came today to help her daughter get the baby home, and when she walked into the post op ward, she began to cry. She was overwhelmed at how her grandson looked. After we discharged them, they walked down the six flights of stairs and then a few moments later I saw the grandmother making her way back up. She had a small bag in her hand, and she pressed it into mine and said "thank you". Inside were four small cherry was all she could give, and it was such a precious gift to me.

The next family to discharge was the one with the little girl who had cheeks galore. The father could not stop saying “thank you thank you”. I asked them if they had received a blanket and a toy for their child and he said he had not taken it because he thought it was our team's. I took them back into our supply room and asked them to pick a blanket and a toy. I wish I could properly explain how carefully they chose. This was such a rare gift to them. They went through every blanket until they found just the perfect quilt for their cherished daughter, and then I took them to the stuffed animal box and asked them to choose. The mom would pick up one after another and the father would shake his head “bu” (no). Finally the mom found the biggest toy in the box….a soft stuffed dog. YES….this was the one fit for his daughter. They carried their new gifts out to the landing, and then it was time to say goodbye. The mom and I made eye contact and then she began to weep…..with complete gratitude. So of course our discharge team began to cry, too. As they slowly started down the steps, the kept saying “goodbye goodbye”, and I could only wonder where they were going and what their future holds. I will never forget that little girl and how very PROUD her parents were of her.

Before I forget, before surgeries started today, Dr. Buckmiller was doing a pre-op check and she found her “baby”. I think you agree that BingBing would steal anyone’s heart. It is a shame that she obviously never eats. :-) After a final hug, Dr. B headed to the OR and another surgery day began.

The team finished another ten cases today, and all of the kids look great. We did some older children today, and when the moms saw their children’s new faces they were crying so very hard. I have to say that these families have touched my heart in a way that I can never describe. As you know, so many children with cleft become orphans, and so to see these families who have made the decision to keep their children, even though they probably live in rural areas where this condition is not understood… is a wonderful thing. The devotion and love that the parents have has impacted all of our team. The very hardest part has been when we have to turn a child down. We have identified so many heart patients, and unfortunately these children need to have their cleft lips repaired in a hospital with a heart center and not in an orphanage OR. Telling the families “no” is devastating. The mothers have dropped to their knees pleading with us to please heal their children, and today one father whose son did not qualify began weeping. How I wish we could help them all.

The patients who were done on Tuesday are all doing incredibly well. The beautiful little girl who almost skipped into the OR is already smiling and dancing for us. She loves her hospital gown so much! We had volunteers make all of the gowns, and they are so cute. The gowns, the blankets, the toys…..every single person who gave of themselves for this mission is such a part of these kids’ happiness. THANK YOU! I learned her story today and I think it is a beautiful one. We were asking the woman with her if she was an orphan, and the mom at first refused to answer yet we knew that she was in foster care. Finally the mom pulled one of us over and said, "she has no idea that I am not her true momma, so please show her as having a family". How many times can I say that I love foster care?

As I walked through the post op ward, I had to stop for a moment just to enjoy the activities of the room. Everywhere I looked babies were being rocked or their foreheads were being stroked. Nurses were checking to make sure everyone was doing great and other team members were blowing bubbles and coaxing smiles. Just to my left was a little girl who made me laugh out loud. She was sporting her very best birthday suit while going potty, yet the one accessory she couldn’t do without was her pink beads. Simply priceless.

We did have something happen today that was both funny yet horrible at the same time. After almost a full day of surgery, everyone in the OR began to say that their eyes were hurting and feeling like they were burned. Then someone noticed that the anesthesiologist's face was bright red. They quickly learned that there is a huge UV light in the OR that is used to sterilize the room between cases, and it had accidentally been switched on during the morning. Essentially, our team had been operating all day long in a tanning booth. While at first it seemed funny, quickly we realized that almost everyone in the OR had burned eyes and were all blinking back tears because of the way they stung. Before we realized the severity of this, we did snap a quick picture of Dr. Ray and Jake showing off their surgical tans. Jake has a red face with a perfect rectangle white area around his mouth where his surgical mask was. He said it was the first time he ever got sunburn while operating. If you look closely, you can see the "scrub" tan line. Dr. Ray is looking very tan, isn't he? I don't know whether to end that with a :-) or a :-(

As I wrote earlier, we have been flooded with patients, and people are walking in off the street. Peasant farmers have abandoned their fields to come see our team in the hopes we can help their child. I will admit that our screening room hallway did get to the point of being overwhelmed, yet our pre-op screening volunteers patiently logged in every child and took their photo and history, and they did it all with a smile. I can never thank the team enough for being so loving and kind to every single child they meet.

Well, I have volumes more I could write but time is very short. Your support and prayers are so very much appreciated. It is giving all of us strength to know that thoughts of love for these kids are coming from all over the world.