Signing off…


A guest blog by Jesta

My last post: I would like to say a huge “Thank you” to QY for hosting this guest blog. I know that it is something that she does very rarely, and I feel honoured that she allowed my writing to appear in her personal space.

I do hope that I haven’t managed to drive away any of her regular readers – light and breezy, the most entertaining blog around doesn’t always gel with the sort of things that I have been writing about.

That she was willing to take that chance is a credit to her as a person and to her readers for their kind comments.

To wrap up with a couple of pics:
Sanati before and after:


And remember this guy?
This is how he looks now:

Thank you QY, and thank you readers, remember Operation Smile and its work…

It’s a wrap – done and dusted!


A guest blog by Jesta

Urumuqi airport – where coffee costs more than wine

I write this sitting in the departure lounge of Urumuqi airport. We left the hotel at 6 am (well, the local equivalent which is 6.30am, or “Whenever the coach turns up”). We arrived at the airport to discover that despite being booked on our early flight Air China (official motto: “We don’t care”) had decided in all its wisdom to move us to a later flight. This was also delayed so it looks like we will miss out connecting flight to Singapore…

The check-in was… interesting… The previous day quite a few of our group had bought wine from the places that we had visited. Unfortunately, Air China had decided that wine was obviously incredibly dangerous in the check-in luggage so wouldn’t let anyone check it in. This meant that we all ended up at the Air China counter with a corkscrew and 6 bottles of wine. So, there was a good deal of raising bottles and drinking as much as possible before we had to go through security.

The second security screening also made some odd decisions. Apparently, if you were male then you could get by with lip balm and other cream products, but women couldn’t. Conspiracy theorists decided that it was because the security staff were all female and so were going to get the products that they confiscated.

The body search was also slightly more than intimate. Fortunately for me I had a female security running her hands all over my body, which was the best thing about the whole process. Other people were ticklish, which made for some amusing scenes of a security guard trying to thoroughly check a woman who was laughing and wriggling…

Once we got through I went to look for coffee. They promised us cappuccino, but then said that they couldn’t steam the milk – so would we like just milk coffee… It cost 120 Yuan for two coffees – S$12 per cup. The day before we had bought a bottle of wine for 55 Yuan. So coffee costs more than wine.



The end of the road, ’til next time, anyway

We made it onto our connecting flight, by running through Beijing airport so we have finished the mission – the team screened 110 patients of all ages from 3 day’s old to 51. In the end the surgical team performed 140 procedures on 88 patients. The last ones were discharged on the day that we left.

We had hoped for more, but it appears that the security situation had meant that we didn’t get to see all those who we were told were on their way. Some had come from as much as 1700km, but they had to have special papers from their local party officials and were repeatedly stopped along the way. It’s possible that some either gave up or decided that it was too dangerous to travel, we just don’t know.

Sanati and her grandfather have started their long return journey, but when I said goodbye to her she was starting to smile again and was more playful.

As a parent of a child with a cleft lip and palate joining an Operation Smile mission was a no-brainer. When my daughter was born my whole life became focused on repairing the damage and giving her a normal face again. When there are parents who do not have access to the same level of medical care that I do, parents who have to watch their children grow up without the chance to help them, then there is no way that I could stand aside from that.

I also asked some of the team why they do missions like this. They do this work for free. They are all highly skilled medical professionals: plastic surgeons, doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel, none of whom have any financial reason and most have no personal reason to be here either. Here’s what they said:
Dr Y: “Because there are people who need us. We bring top quality international plastic surgeons into areas that would ordinarily never have the opportunity to access this level of care.”

Nurse J: “We have the chance to help people who can’t afford it. It’s tremendously fulfilling work.”

“Because it’s meaningful.” Dr YC

Can’t say it any better than that.

Operation Smile is a wonderful charity. They don’t treat the patients as second-class simply because they are third-world. The charity screens all its volunteers – even top-class plastic surgeons like Dr Y and Dr YC have to apply for their places – they ship in the best medical equipment and take the time to train local medical staff, they make space for a Child Life Specialist (essentially a person who plays with the children to make them more comfortable in the hospital environment) and they change the lives of the people they work with.

There are many, many deserving causes around the world, and all of our pockets are constantly being asked for donations to help. Please don’t feel that Operation Smile is the only deserving cause, but if you want to make an immediate, tangible difference to a family, then Operation Smile is one of the best ways to do it.

Getting there – the end is in sight


A guest blog by Jesta

Firstly, sorry that nothing has been posted for a couple of days. Day 4 and Day 5 (Saturday and Sunday) were very long hauls with each surgeon seeing at least 7 patients – the OR was running up to 7 tables at a time, with 6 being more normal.

Each room had two tables, each table had two surgeons and a scrub nurse, and there were usually three or four medical students hanging around, so things were quite busy.

In fact Saturday was pretty crazy. We had a local radio station come in and set up a whole bunch of equipment and other stuff (including a speaker system) and they started broadcasting live from inside the OR. If you have never seen a DJ trying to do his stuff in a surgical gown and hat then you should try to do so.

At the same time I think that we had two separate camera crews from local news stations recording inside the OR, as well as our own two camera crews. All of the Chinese speaking surgeons became immediate media stars – the only problem being that Singapore Mandarin was not always up to the task…

This is what it looked like at a quieter moment in the OR. The main surgeon is Dan from the USA:

Yesterday was really the last major day, and we wrapped up the last surgeries today. I will do a wrap up post and some more pictures when I get back and I have had time to send them to OS for approval.

In the meantime here are some more faces. I have most of their pictures after the surgery too, so I will post them when I have had time to get them to OS:




Faces of Hope – Picture Post


A guest blog by Jesta

This is Sanati:


She’s the girl who I talked about in my last post.

Here she is on her way out of the OR (most of the OR pictures are a bit too graphic):

These are the parents waiting outside the OR for their first glimpse of their children. Sanati’s grandfather is at the back in the cap:

And here they are together in the ward after the operation:

She was still dopey from the effects of the anesthesia, but his face says it all.

I will post more pictures. Operation Smile in the US have been really great in getting back to me with permission to use shots so I now have a backlog of pictures to clear.

Off for breakfast now and then back to the OR…

24 Hours on a Donkey, 15 Hours on a Bus


A guest blog by Jesta

Short post, no pics yet (I’ve asked OS for permission to use some of the pictures that I shot yesterday).

I’ve just come out of the Operation Room (OR) where I spent most of my morning. The main event was a repair of a cleft lip and palate of a girl (I’ll get the correct spelling of her name later) who will eventually feature in a film that OS is making of this trip. She was under for nearly 3 hours, but the difference is incredible.

The story gets better.

Her parents are divorced, and she lives with her grandfather. He rode with her on a donkey* for 24 hours and then took two different buses taking more than 15 hours to get to Urumqi to bring her to the hospital. When I left the OR he was still waiting outside to see her for the first time – her aunt had gone in to the OR to see her.

I showed him the pictures of the girl post-op that I had on my camera. He took one look and the tears started welling up. He couldn’t look away, but it was such an emotional moment. It was wonderful to be able to see just how much this sort of thing means…

It’s moments like this that really hammer home the importance of what Operation Smile does. I can’t tell you just how valuable this service is for the children and the parents. If you do one thing this year that will make an immediate difference to a child in need then a donation to Operation Smile will be a really good thing to do.

It’s nearly 3pm and I need lunch, so I’ll update later.

* the first version of this post said “horse”, but I have since found out that it was actually a donkey.