"Baby Addy's Legacy"

Monday, June 23, 2014

Can I tell you about something that sends my spirit to the moon with joy?

"Baby Addy's Legacy" is being featured on the Operation Smile blog! 
It is one thing for me to share on my little slice of the internet or on my IG feed (@sookiejane) but something so much bigger on an international blog.

I have said since the day that I held that precious little babe in my arms, that I want her memory to live on. This momma's heart is so full seeing just that. 

I don't share for recognition, friends this isn't about me. 
This is about a Little Sunshine who's life, though ever so short, matters. 
And, it is about a glorious God who heals in incredible ways.

Operation Smile: Davao

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

It is 3am and I cannot sleep.
10 flights, 60 hours of flying, and a 12 hour time change in 12 days sent my body into crazy jet lag.  But well worth it it was!  I had the most incredible time and I don't know that words will ever do justice to the goodness of my first Operation Smile mission.

Being wide awake has given me time to scroll through pictures and replay my journey. 
I don't want to forget any of the details. So much joy, so much love, and so much hope all rolled into one incredible trip.

250 volunteers from 19 countries gathered in Manila and then dispersed to six different sites spanning the Philippines for the "Gift of Smiles" mega mission.  Combined, 1152 infants/children/adults were screened and a grand total of 750 patients were given the gift of a smile! Incredible.

I journeyed to Davao along with others from across the US, Canada, Venezuela, Colombia, Vietnam, India, Kenya, Thailand, and the Philippines.  Our team was comprised of nurses (Pre-Op, OR, PACU, and Post-Op), pediatricians, a pediatric intensivist, anesthesiologists, plastic surgeons, dentist, speech pathologists, a medical records team, biomed, child life specialists, a research team, and three high school students and their sponsor.

Saturday was screening day and each patient was evaluated by all medical entities.
Parents traveled long and far (one walking from 7am to 10pm with two children in tow). They waited long hours, withstood extreme heat, and some even slept outside for the opportunity to have their child evaluated. But, there was never a single complaint. They are fiercely dedicated parents who were so gracious, loving, and appreciative. Each time I stopped to scan the room, I stood in awe at their perseverance.

In Davao, we screened just under 300 patients.
Each was given a priority level and those with the greatest need went first.
By the end of the week, 143 patients underwent surgery.

The need was tremendous and it broke my heart to know that some of the kids were turned away. There was simply not enough time to care for them all. But Operation Smile will return. They are committed to their mission of seeing every cleft repaired.

After the screening was completed and just before surgeries were scheduled to begin, we took time to take in creation by island hopping to Samal Island. It was simply serene. I swam and snorkeled, drank the juice from a just picked coconut, ate fresh grilled tuna, and devoured the juiciest and most divine mangoes! It was as if I stepped into a dream.

But come bright and early Monday morning, the real work began.
Nerves set in as I walked into my job on the post-op ward. As a newbie to Operation Smile, I began to doubt my ability to provide for the patients. As I stood in the ward second guessing my decision to come, I heard the tune of "Amazing Grace." I walked outside and down the stairs and there was a room full of Filipino people being lead by a pastor in a unison singing "Amazing Grace"...in English. In a place where the primary language was Tagalog the familiar words soothed my worried self .

I worked alongside two Filipino nurses and two pediatricians (one from Texas and one from India) to oversee care for the patients after their surgery until they are able to be discharged (most staying either one night or two depending on their surgery). 

It was the place where a small cot and a plastic chair for the parent became a humble abode. Where ice cream was consumed, bubbles were blown, pipe cleaners were twisted into crowns, pictures were colored, new stuffed animals were cuddled, and stickers were as good as gold. 

It was the place where medications were given, vital signs assessed, surgical tape removed, and incisions cleaned. 

Where tears were shed by overjoyed parents as the fear of a life of bullying and rejection was laid to rest. It was the place where a seven year old held tight to her baby sister as she slept. And where a five year old little boy stroked his little sisters head each time she began to whimper. And the place where a twin teenage boy sat arm in arm with his brother helping to hold a cup of water to his just repaired lip.  

It was the place where a mirror took on new life as self admiration was felt for the first time.

It was a place where I was humbled to have the opportunity to witness such vast outpouring of love and pride and hope and thankfulness.

And it wasn't just babies or preschool aged kids, there were teenagers and even a patient my age.  I watched as she slyly took in her new refection. What is must feel like to see oneself in a whole new light. 

When I learned of Addy's cleft, it wasn't a matter of if she would have surgery, but of when. 
But for these parents, finances were tight, access to medical care limited, and resources scarce. Surgery wasn't a given and without Operation Smile, most likely not possible. 

A rather quick surgery was so much more than cosmetic, it leads to better nutrition and speech. It was a chance to raise self esteem, to aid in ending embarrassment, rejection, and social shunning. It can give a child the courage to attend school and the opportunity to dream big for their future.

My heart was so full. 
 The love and dedication of the parents, sibling, and grandparents was deep. 
They were so grateful and so, so appreciative.

But, they had no idea the healing they provided my heart.

Laying on one of the cots was a 15 month old little girl. After coming back from her surgery, her momma perfectly wrapped her in a yellow and white blanket over her grey hospital gown. As I looked down at her, I fought back tears as I envisioned my Addy. This is what she would have looked like. I bent down, stroked her head, kissed her little cheek, and told her momma just how beautiful she was.  It was yet another moment of peace for me. I never got the chance to see my Addy through her repair but for this child I did. It was where I was destined to be. 

I carried my Addy's picture every where I went and shared her story with anyone I could. 
I hope she knows the impact that her life is having.

If it was not for her, I would have never embarked on an Operation Smile mission.
 I am so unbelievable grateful that this opportunity arose. 

And a big, yet unexpected bonus of the trip were my teammates. 
They embraced me and allowed me to share my Addy with them...pictures and all.
 They were welcoming, loving, and compassionate. They supplied me with all the things I forgot from a magical Mary Poppins bag. Together we laughed, took every opportunity we could to take advantage of the $6 - 60 minute messages that were only a tricycle ride away, did our best attempt at singing karaoke, and they embraced my need to order pizza over all the fresh seafood.  As much as I tried, tails, shells, scales, and tentacles were not my thing. 

Different food preferences aside, we had deep and real conversations about life, my most favorite kind. It has become a great passion of mine to get to know people at their core simply because I want you to know who I am at mine. I may not know their favorite color but I know their dreams, there life struggles, and their hopes for the future. Fast and fierce friends we became.  


Words are not enough to share the gravity of my experience. 
The most precious patients, the devoted and grateful parents, my embracing team, and now forever friends. It was simple more than I could have ever dreamed. 

This trip far surpassed my 'Year 28 Bucket List' dreams and I know my Addy would be proud. 
It was healing, it was humbling, and it was rejuvenating. 
And so begins the quest for my next mission because hope does not disappoint. 


Just a little sidenote, I took 3 cameras and almost 600 pictures but I wanted to be respectful with what I posted. Most of the patients had a cleft lip repair and their little lips need time for the swelling to subside and the sutures to dissolve. The transformations were dramatic and honestly amazing but out of respect for them, I didn't share any fresh post-op pictures which given where I worked were the majority of my photos. This thing called the internet is huge and it's not my place to share such a pivotal time of healing for all the world to view.

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