Trip Report: Wenzhou, China
In November 2014 Alliance for Smiles sent a medical team to Wenzhou, a well-frequented mission site and home of our third Treatment Center in China. This mission included a teaching team component, which not only worked in Wenzhou but also made a side trip to our fourth Treatment Center in Zunyi, China. Many of the children who are treated at the Center in Wenzhou are the children of migrant workers, who are attracted to the city by our treatment center and the promise of extended care for their children. Among the dedicated volunteers of the Wenzhou team was photographer Cami Winslow. The work of AfS touches home for her because of her family history of clefts. Here is a Daily Briefing from that mission, an insight into the day to day life on a mission, as well as what it’s like for a volunteer who had both a cleft lip and palate repaired as a child to see someone else have the same life changing surgery.
“The Heart Of The Matter”
Sometimes there are surgeries that are so profound that they impact not only the individual personally affected, but they also change the lives of those around the patient. This was the case for me today. I’m not a stranger to clefts, after all my father, brother, and I all have a bilateral cleft-lip and palate. Repairing clefts is a cause that’s near and dear to my heart and AFS’s goals are the reason I chose to volunteer on one of their missions.
Feng He, an almost 11 year old with a severe bilateral cleft-lip and palate, underwent an extreme makeover today. I first encountered her at the clinic on Monday and was happy to see that she’d be having repair surgery today. Dr. Bill DeShazo performed her palate repair first and stated he’d also operate on her lip if it was safe enough to do so, as it can take a toll on a patient to have that much done at once.
I anxiously awaited the news hoping they would do her lip repair too because I knew it would make such a drastic improvement in the way she looks. Even I can’t imagine having to go through life with an unrepaired cleft for that long. Dr. DeShazo went ahead and did the second part of the surgery and I could hardly believe my eyes when he was through. In just a matter of hours she looked like a completely different person! This is why I came on this mission. Having repair surgery goes beyond cosmetics, there’s a psychological element to it as well. Not only will the way other people see her change, but most importantly the way she views herself will change.
The Wenzhou team completed 122 surgeries on 77 patients and the total value of the medical services donated was $446,425.
We are sending another team to Wenzhou in July 2015.
Trip Report: Guiyang, China
In March an Alliance for Smiles medical team returned to Guiyang, China to follow up on the previous mission to that site in 2013. This trip was truly in the spirit of international cooperation, with medical and non medical volunteers hailing from five countries including the United States, China, Canada, India, and Malaysia. Led by mission director Mary Smith, the team completed 81 surgeries on 101 children. The value of the donated medical services was $375,067.
One special volunteer on this trip was Magdalen Leung. Magdalen is the Past President and Foundation Chair of the Rotary Club of Richmond Sunset in Vancouver BC, and was instrumental in raising the funds to support this mission. In addition, Magdalen served a vital role as Assistant Mission Director. Alliance for Smiles would like to recognize Magdalen as well as the Rotary Club of Richmond Sunset, the Rotary Club of Langley Central, the Rotary Club of Shanghai, The Fan Family Charitable Trust, Concord Pacific Development, and Winkie Lau as major funders for this mission.
Trip Report: Xingyi, China
In May we completed a successful mission in Xingyi, China – our second to this city. Team photographer Greg Goodman was inspired by his experience to write the following:
Last month, I was honored to join Alliance for Smiles on a medical mission to Xingyi, China. Our goal was simple: provide life-changing surgery to as many children as possible. In reality, they were the ones changing our lives. Every day, our patients greeted us with toothy grins, waves and hugs. We may have provided them with a free medical procedure; but, the love and joy they gave us in return is unquantifiable.
Being a part of this mission was one of the most humbling, inspirational, emotional, motivational, joyful and unforgettable experiences of my life. Coming in, the requirements sounded easy enough: photograph the children and their families before, during and after surgery. I assumed there would be some overpowering moments; and, that I might see some intense “medical things.” But, what I couldn’t have predicted was how each child would touch my heart and forever enrich my life…even the crying screamers.
Our patients are the bravest children I’ve ever met. It’s undeniable that life dealt them a very difficult hand. Yet, I saw no evidence of animosity or hard feelings in the joyfully happy faces I encountered. Instead, I was awestruck to find a group of adorable, gentle, precocious, sometimes hysterical, sometimes inconsolable, funny, cute and smiling kids. During the opening clinic, laughter echoed through the halls; as children were busy running, grinning, playing and hugging their adoring parents or guardians. Days later, while waiting for their surgery or recovering from it, many of our patients were STILL smiling. Sure, their stitches made it a bit tougher; but, the twinkle in their eyes was still there.
Over the course of the mission, a few children found an extra special place in my heart. These were the kids that lit up every time they saw me; and, who genuinely enjoyed my company. Although I was constantly running around with my camera, I said hi every chance I got. I know you’re not supposed to pick favorites… but, my friendship with Wang JinYue ensured that I did. Although there was no common language, we formed a bond through waves, smiles, high-fives, toys and coloring books. JinYue loved to be photographed; and he hammed it up every time I saw him… even while laying in his post-op bed with a mouth full of stitches. The goodbye hug I received from JinYue is now one of my life’s most cherished memories.
Language barriers? Not on our mission! Thanks to an amazing team of student translators – plus a highly skilled group of local doctors and nurses who speak the universal dialect of medicine – our international team operated like a well-oiled machine. Sure, there were some bumps in the road and a few blank stares when something was misunderstood. There also were several cultural differences in hospital and patient management that had to be dealt with. But, the most important fact is that 75 patients received successful surgery and went home with a clean bill of health. That sounds like a huge success to me!
Story and pictures by Gregory Goodman. To see the full text of the story and more amazing photographs, please visit Greg’s Website
This mission was funded by STOP Cleft International Alliance, and was made possible through the efforts of the China Population Welfare Foundation and the Family Planning Association
Trip Report: Gazipur, Bangladesh
None of our medical missions are “easy” but the February Bangladesh mission posed a number of extra challenges. Because of safety concerns in the area, the team was under strict regulations; which meant no strolling the city in the evenings.
One night one of the patients required additional care – which is not unusual – but because of the safety issues the volunteers who were with him could not leave the hospital, even though he became stabilized late that night. Reflecting on what our volunteers are willing to do to make sure that their patients are well taken care of, our lead nurse, Annette Hall wrote the following and it truly touched our hearts to see such care and sacrifice:
Well it’s 0430 here at the hospital. The boy is doing well – off oxygen since 2200 last night, sat @ 99, HR down 102-108, lungs clear, but then he’s got to feel miserable with his nose packed and having to breathe through his mouth. We’re locked in now, so waiting till 0700 to be able to move him to the ward and do post op rounds. Dr. Sayed, our anesthesiologist, is up and watching him now.
Our Pediatrician and our PACU nurse from Belize, who is fantastic, are now sleeping in make shift beds around this small OR. I slept for about 4 hours on a 20 inch wooden bench that they brought for me, with a small pillow and two muslin sheets, one of which I placed over my head – mosquitos! Melonie, the PACU nurse had bug spray in her bag which helped, but I still have mosquito bites on my fingers. The mosquitoes are everywhere in here. The local OR nurse is sleeping on the floor in the other OR. The boy’s mother and aunt have stayed with him through the night, taking turns sleeping on the floor. Nice women. Would love a toothbrush right now! Battery getting low…
Our medical team performed 92 surgeries on 77 patients; the total value of the donation medical services was $355,039. This mission was made possible by a Rotary Global Grant.
10th Anniversary Gala
Our big 10th Anniversary Gala was held on April 11th, 2015 at the Intercontinental Hotel in San Francisco. It was a huge success with 260 in attendance – our biggest event yet! To start the evening the guests circulated for a pre-event cocktail reception, and had the chance to bid on wonderful silent auction items – including artwork donated by the Chinese Consulate, a signed 2014 Giants championship baseball bat, designer vintage jewelry, sports tickets including games for the championship Warriors team, and a behind the scenes tour of Pixar Studios.
The main purpose of the evening was to celebrate the 10 year anniversary of Alliance for Smiles and its outstanding volunteers. Lead dental hygienist Mary Jensen was awarded the Volunteer of the Year Award for her leadership and contributions to the dental team.
The John Uth Memorial Award for Significant Financial Support was presented to Rotary International, and we were honored to welcome the Immediate Past President of Rotary, Ron Burton, who traveled all the way from Oklahoma to accept this award. The Award wasestablished as a remembrance of the work and generosity of John who was a Founder, the first Chairman of the Board, a great Rotarian, and a huge supporter of the work of AfS.
A newly created award, developed just for this anniversary event, was given to four volunteers who have exhibited continued leadership and dedication to promoting Alliance for Smiles. Dr. Colin Wong was honored for his work in China, Dr. Karin Vargervik for her dedication to the Treatment Center Programs, John Goings for countless hours as the Treasurer and Secretary, and Barbara Fisher for taking on the task of programs outside of China. These leaders have donated countless hours for 10 years so that Alliance for Smiles can help children and expand programs.
A surprise award was presented to Anita Stangl, President and CEO and a Founder, for her distinguished service and for being a Legacy Leader for Alliance for Smiles.
The live auction featured exotic items such as vacations in Hawaii, and cruise adventures on the SF Bay. A cruise on the Five Stars Yacht was auctioned off four times raising over $11,000 for AfS.
At the end, the crowd was asked to make straight donations, beginning with a $5000 pledge, and the donations quickly flowed in – with almost $50,000 being raised in 5 minutes! It was a magical evening and the expectations are high for another fantastic event scheduled for March 19, 2016, again at the Intercontinental Hotel in San Francisco.
Success at First International Symposium in Shanghai
What sets AfS apart from other cleft lip and palate organizations is our commitment to not only send surgical teams to sites, but to help these sites develop programs that provide long-term care for patients and that foster multi-disciplinary team cleft treatment. This type of care is what children born with clefts receive in the United States and other countries with well-developed health care systems.
To this end we have been able to establish five such treatment centers in China, with plans to develop more in other countries. Participants from our five centers came together in Shanghai in late April to hear from American experts in the fields of surgery, orthodontia & dentistry, speech pathology, and anesthesia. They discussed the common challenges of setting up treatment programs in Mainland China.
The Chinese participants included not only the medical providers but also representatives from the Chinese government, hospital administrators, and our NGO partner, the China Population Welfare Foundation. In order to see what is required of a center, a contingency of five came from Bangladesh where an AfS Treatment Center team will be hosted in September 2015. Almost 100 people were in attendance.
The results of the Symposium were significant in that there was a renewed commitment on the part of the five centers to maintain communication with one another and to actively work to strengthen their programs. The Symposium was a vital step for AfS to move forward in China and other locations with this extremely important program.
Accolades go to Dr. Karin Vargervik, Distinguished Professor Emerita at UCSF and former Director of the Center on Craniofacial Anomalies at UCSF, who as a volunteer has spearheaded the Treatment Center Program for the last eleven years; and to DR. Colin Wong, VP for China Affairs, who put in hours of work to make the Symposium a reality. AfS wishes to recognize the work of the China Population Welfare Foundation, our partner since our beginning days, for their contribution in co-hosting the Symposium. AfS also extends great thanks to Covidien Healthcare International Trading for donating their facility.
Please Welcome Kim Brown!
There will be a change in leadership at Alliance for Smiles in February when Mr. Kim Brown comes in as President and CEO, and Anita Stangl steps down and retires. Brown comes to AfS with experience both in the for-profit (banking) industry and the non-profit (President and CEO of HOLT, a major international adoption agency) arena.
Of her retirement Stangl states:
“I feel very comfortable handing over the reins of Alliance for Smiles to Kim as he will be able to lead this organization which I love so much to a new level. I have every confidence that there is a very bright future for AfS. I will stay involved on a volunteer basis as I have made so many wonderful friends and am passionate about the work that we are doing. My time with AfS has been filled with challenges but also with joy and I am humbled that I was asked to contribute my skills so that children can have better lives.”