Raising Money for Surgery for an Impoverished Chinese Teenager

Update, March 28 and 30, 2013: This effort has turned into heartbreak, but there’s still hope. The surgeon did things his way and didn’t operate on the knee at all. It was the wrong surgery, according to other experts who had insisted that knee surgery, not hip surgery was needed now. The family is out a ton of money and a load of time with the possibility that there son will be worse off than before. I was despondent initially, but am now moving forward. We still need to help the man pay off some of the debt he has for this surgery, while building funds to bring them back to a better hospital for the knee surgery that is needed. More details in the update section below. Also see my update on this blog or at Mormanity.

Part of the magic of China is expressed in the phrase yuan fen (缘分) which refers to seemingly accidental encounters that have destiny behind them. So many of the miracles I have experienced in China are tied to this concept. So many of the rich friendships I now enjoy here began as chance encounters.





One of these chance encounters happened a few weeks ago in Shanghai, leading me to become friends with a poor family of Chinese farmers from a distant province that I many never see. But on my way back to the office after lunch at a good Chinese restaurant, my eyes were drawn to a father and his little son whose leg was badly deformed. The boy could walk, but the way his leg curved outward to the side instead of going straight up and down made it look like it would snap under the weight of his thin body. Every time he stepped with his bad leg he had to stoop halfway to the ground in a difficult motion.

What a burden this must be, I thought, and wondered if they had seen a doctor. I couldn’t let that thought go, and spent several minutes trying to argue myself out of doing anything. But I ended up following them for about 100 yards. Do I dare approach them? They looked like they were from the countryside, and I worried that they wouldn’t speak Chinese that I could understand. Won’t I just embarrass them and make things work? I struggled to know if I really should step forward, and in fear and uncertainty wished not to, but try as I might to just turn around and go back to work, I felt I had to do something. So I finally approached them, and, as if it were somehow my business, asked the father about the boy’s leg. The father spoke too quickly and with what seemed like a difficult accent to me, and my Chinese is still often inadequate when people speak even it’s pronounced clearly in standard dialect, but to my delight, another person with them, a college student, the cousin of the young boy, spoke excellent English and was able to fill in the gaps.

It’s a long story, but the father and the boy were here in Shanghai to finally get medical help. The boy had a terrible infection as a baby that made his knee swell terribly, and after that, his leg was bent horribly. He had some kind of surgery at age 3 but it didn’t help much. Now the father was determined to get his son some help at a much better hospital than the countryside offered. He was acting on pure faith, in my opinion, determined to help his son, but had just gotten the bad news from the hospital that surgery would cost well over 100,000 RMB, but he was going to have it done and find some way to pay.

I think a big part of why I needed to get involved was to help them recognize the need for a second opinion. I helped them see an excellent and experienced physician at a leading hospital who explained what was wrong with the recommendation of the first doctor he had seen. The first doctor wanted to operate on the hip and the knee at the same time, but the hip surgery, including an artificial hip, should wait until the boy’s bones had quit growing. Doing that surgery now could greatly complicate recovery and make things worse.

The father wasn’t entirely convinced, but then I arranged for two very kind LDS doctors in the States to look at the x-rays and photos and offer their comments, and they gave further clarity into the problems with hip surgery now. Perhaps a result, the father made what I think and hope is the better decision. That may be the main purpose for my involvement in this case. But it may not be the only reason.

As I write, the boy is about to wake up from a several hours of complex surgery. This surgery costs 50,000 RMB, about $8,000. The father has been able to come up with 20% of that cost as a down payment. When the boy leaves in a couple of weeks, if all goes well, his father will need to make the rest of the payment. He isn’t sure how he will do that, but I admire his faith. I’m hoping, with the help of some of you, perhaps, to raise some funds to make that goal reality. If you are interested in helping this brave family get their son back on his feet, let me know at jeff at jefflindsay.com. Think of it as your chance to make a difference in China and help a boy with vast potential live a better life.

Here are some related photos, shared with permission.

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Zhiwei awaiting surgery, sitting on the bed in a crowded room of six beds at Shanghai hospital where he will spend the next two or three weeks recuperating, if all goes well. (Not the Children’s Medical Center.)

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The boy’s bad leg, photographed at Shanghai Children’s Medical Hospital, where the family got a second opinion on the originally recommended surgery.
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A recent x-ray taken at Shanghai Children’s Medical Center.

 

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Zhiwei walking before surgery.

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Walking before surgery. I’m praying that there will be a significant improvement after surgery!

Update, Sunday, March 24, 2013, 8 pm: Tonight my wife and I just visited Zhiwei and his father tonight at the hospital. The boy is in a lot of pain and has no desire to eat. The father is worried for him. The mom will be coming tomorrow and that should help. I think she’s never been to Shanghai and is worried about how to get to the hospital. The father didn’t know how to tell her to get hear and was planning on just using a taxi, I’m afraid, which would be too expensive for them. We showed the father how to use the subway system nearby so he could tell her exactly what to do, how to but a ticket and how to get to the station and what exit to take, etc. This must have looked really strange to the locals as they watched two foreigners using Chinese to explain to a native Chinese man how to get around town. We’re always providing entertainment here in China–perhaps that’s our real purpose here.

The father said that Zhiwei’s resistance was low, but didn’t have a bad fever. Not quite sure what he meant by resistance. The skin isn’t doing well either around the wound. That good man is worried for his son. He hasn’t slept since coming here on Thursday, having watched over his son constantly and now he says he needs to massage his son’s leg or something every little while. Saw no doctor or nurse while we were there, and got the feeling that the man was feeling pretty alone, in spite of a crowd in the same room.





Update, March 26, 2013: The boy’s mother came into town yesterday. I went by the hospital briefly on my lunch break and she saw me for the first time as I stood at the door of the little room with 6 hospital beds packed together. She instantly knew I must be the strange foreigner she had heard about and broke into a huge smile. It seemed like we had already been friends when we met. What a warm and sweet woman she is. Even more gladdening, little Zhiwei was smiling, too. He’s eating and smiling and making progress. What a difference a mother makes!

Thank you for the donations! We still need more, but are so grateful for the kindness we’ve seen from people close and far away recognizing the need to help.

Update, March 30, 2013: Disaster! When I finally looked at the leg under the blankets, to my horror I saw that the surgery was on the hip, not the knee. WHAT? I was outraged. The doctor was supposed to be in the next day at 6 pm, so I came then, but he didn’t show up. During all my visits, I’ve never seen a doctor come in and do anything with the patients and their families in the crowded little room, and only once saw a nurse come in to drain a catheter or something on another teenage boy, a procedure that involved exposing his genitals to everybody in the room and the hallway. No sense of privacy at all. Ugh. Anyway, the father called the hospital staff and arranged for us to see the surgeon the next morning when he came in at 7:45. I was there, with a translator to help, and the doctor came in and just walked by us, radiating wealth and importance, with no time to discuss his work with peons like us. We were told he needed to change and would be with us in a minute. Then he escaped out of his office and went into another office down the hall, and then we were told he’d be just a few minutes and we’d have to wait until 8:00 a.m. That time came and went. It was clear he wasn’t interested in meeting or talking. What was he worried about?

The father then showed me the x-rays. Major hip surgery, with pins and rods. Will it help? I don’t know. The surgeon, the head of the department here, told the family that the hip was where the real problem was and now it will let the knee heal naturally. I’m not sure about that. A US doctor who has seen the x-rays before and after has raised serious questions about this procedure. There have been many red flags, including the fact that the surgeon told the family that something was wrong with the placement of things in the hip and that a second expensive surgery was needed next week. When the family said they didn’t have the money for that, the doctor said it was time to back up and leave because the bed was needed for the next patient. And now he’s saying no problem, it will heal naturally. Wait, if there’s a problem in what he did with the hip that required expensive surgery, how can he send them away and say he can heal naturally? How can he send them away at all? China leaves many questions unanswered.

Plan B: I want to raise $13,000 to pay for the next surgery and help them pay down a major part of the debt they have from this apparently failed surgery. Thank you to all who have donated, and I hope you can keep the donations coming. All the donations I’ve received so far and then some have gone to the family to help them with their expenses here, and now I want to build a reserve to help for another surgery in a few months, if that is the right timing.

Update, March 31, 2013: Yesterday we visited the family at Xinhua hospital and learned that they still did not have their medical records, but Kendra my wife was able to go there today while I was in Hangzhou and get the records and see them before they took the train out of Shanghai. Mom, Dad, and a cousin will carry Zhiwei into a taxi and from there onto the train. Jolts and bumps are inevitable, and the risk of damage and pain over the long trip home terrifies me. It’s over a 10-hour train ride to get close to home, and then I guess they’ll take taxis again. Then Zhiwei is supposed to lie on a bed for 3 months while the hip heals. Can that work? Will he walk any better after all this suffering? Probably not until he gets knee surgery. I’m praying that he will be able to walk at all.

Several kind donations came in today to help us toward the goal of raising enough for the real surgery that will be needed. We’ve resolved to go out to Jiangxi provinces ourselves, at the invitation of the family, to meet them there and see how they are doing. I think it will be a humbling trip. Much about China is humbling.

Why wouldn’t the surgeon talk with us? Why did he do the hip surgery instead of the needed surgery on the knee? Some of the answers might become clear in the medical records I’ve just received from my wife. Stay tuned.

Update, April 1, 2013: Farewell for Now
My new friends from Jiangxi Province in China have left the hospital and gone home. The surgery that was provided to the surprise of the family and me, possibly an unnecessary surgery, requires the boy to remain lying down for the next 3 months, according to the surgeon. But to get home, he had to be moved in and out of taxis, through a train station, and onto a train, where the best the family could find was a “hard sleeper” seat where the boy can lie down, but it’s an elevated seat about 5 feet above the ground that people normally climb to reach. The parents were were hoping to lift up and place him there. I guess it worked out somehow. I’d probably cringe if I knew the details. He is home now, and from the father’s text message appears to be OK, but I’m sure there were some ugly jolts and terrible pain along the way. I hope nothing was damaged.

I saw the family last on Saturday, March 30th, the day before they took the long train (11 hours) back to their town in Jiangxi Province. Kendra, my wife, saw them the next day when I had to be in Hangzhou, and she brought them some pillows, another blanket, and some food that I purchased Saturday evening for them for the long journey home. It was be a painful ride, I’m afraid, for our little young man, Zhiwei, whose upper thigh bone was cut and bolted together in a surgery that may only delay the work needed on the knee. But perhaps it’s just what he needed most, I can only hope. There is a chance that the decision to operate that way was actually brilliant and perfect for him. Well, I’m hoping for a miracle. But I’m pretty sure he’s going to need to get that knee rebuilt. And that’s why I’m working to raise more money to be able to bring them back here and get things done right, if possible.

Here are some photos of our visit on Saturday, March 30. They have invited us to come visit them soon in Jiangxi, and we plan to do it. I think we’ll fly into Nanchang (very inexpensive!) and then take a train or taxi from there.

So strange, this chance encounter on the streets of Shanghai, and how it has changed me. It’s been quite an experience, this escalating drama and the process of learning to know, love, and mourn with a poor family family whose parents have a total of 3 years of education between them. Day after day, visiting, talking, experiencing the various cycles of relief and outrage, happiness and anger, resignation and resolve, well, I can feel that it’s changing me a little, changing the way I look at people, money, and society. Somehow, this random encounter has mattered deeply to me. It’s yuanfen, a touch of destiny I think. But perhaps much that actually is chance offers the opportunity to grow and learn and love in ways that will seem like destiny. Random or not, destiny or not, I feel my life is linked to some distant souls now that are part of who I am, and I must return and maintain this friendship and this responsibility. They are somehow like family how.

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By | 2016-10-24T05:58:01+00:00 March 24th, 2013|Categories: China, Health, Photography|Comments Off on Raising Money for Surgery for an Impoverished Chinese Teenager

Experiencing Surgery in China: One Great Experience, One Near Miss

When I moved to China last year with my wife, I had a huge list of things that I wanted to see and experience. I had a much shorter list of things to avoid, with one thing in particular at the top: surgery. I had heard some frightening things about healthcare in China–though perhaps not as frightening as what the Chinese hear about the American system. Many advised me to avoid hospitalization and surgery at all costs.

That healthy goal became a bit impractical after an unpleasant fall while foolishly running across a wet Shanghai street recently and hitting a slick glossy zebra stripe. The sprawling, body-slamming collision not just with the ground but with a projecting curb did more than just impart some painful bruises. I later discovered a surprise hernia that would require laparoscopic surgery. After exploring many options, I found a highly skilled Chinese surgeon that a US physician had recommended, and he helped me become comfortable with the options and the system here. Chen Bingguan is the name of the specialist and he operates at China East International Medical Clinic, a very expensive private clinic for foreigners and rich people. But he also operates at China East Hospital (Dong Fang), a public hospital that is much less expensive. And Dong Fang has a great “VIP Clinic” that caters to foreigners and Chinese VIPs (i.e., people willing to pay extra) that is still far below the cost of private hospitals.

Since my insurance here is rather limited, in spite of buying a second policy to supplement the one I have from work, I wanted to keep costs low. Fortunately, I found that I could have Dr. Chen do the surgery in the “VIP Clinic” of the public hospital for about 1/5 the cost of the private hospitals that cater to foreigners. The experience I had at Shanghai East far exceeded my expectations, with care that seemed better than what I would have expected in the U.S. I had a private room and a group of fun, responsive, and kind nurses who treated me like a celebrity. I guess they don’t get many Americans there. I also had good contact and help from my surgeon. I was on my feet right away and got excellent follow-up care with a full recovery and no pain. Fabulous. I can’t imagine how my care could have been any better.

Shortly after that, I had an MRI done at the same hospital to examine a knee that I had injured earlier. Again, I was delighted with the experience. Getting the MRI was quick, easy, and much cheaper than in the U.S., and I was able to see an knee specialist right away who quickly pointed out the problem: a torn meniscus. Knee surgery was needed to repair it. Let’s schedule it for next week. Simple minimally invasive surgery. No problem.

After the positive experience I had with the hernia repair, I was ready for round two at that hospital. I scheduled the surgery and made arrangements with my employer to miss a few days for the procedure. Would be in the hospital 4 days, then on crutches for a few weeks. And my knee trouble would be gone. Easy. And inexpensive enough that my limited insurance would cover most of it.

As surgery day neared, though, I began to feel like I was missing something. I didn’t really know what procedure was going to be used and what the odds of success were. There had been no discussion of these important details. I called and wanted to speak with the surgeon, but was told I could get all my answers when I checked in to the hospital . When I got there, I was soon greeted by a team of assistants who discussed the procedure. They would remove part or perhaps all of my meniscus, the important shock absorbing pad in the knee joint. But the surgeon has only spoken of “repair” and I assumed that mean suturing the torn section together again–why had the removal not been discussed with me? Now several negative aspects of this second brush with surgery came to my mind–the brusque manner of the surgeon, his visual difficulty in reading the MRI chart, his apparent forgetting of who I was when I saw him on my second visit following initial consultation the previous week. The emotional brain had come up with an answer before the logical brain did and was already telling me to walk away, while I still could. Part of what helped me make the decision to walk were some of the secondary issues after check-in. Instead of the lovely private room I had in my first surgery with my own air conditioning remote control unit, I would be put in a much less attractive, older room shared with a grumpy looking patient and his wife, with several other disappointments compared to my first experience. They contributed to the willingness to flee, as did the unavailability of the surgeon himself to discuss my case.

After punting on the planned surgery, I made a couple of phone calls to get more information and second opinions from other doctors. I learned from a physical therapist that in many parts of the healthcare system here, there is a tendency to turn to surgery as a first option instead of as a last resort. Just two days before we had visited a Chinese friend of ours, a vendor struggling to make a living in a little market near our home, in a local hospital. She had just delivered a baby and was sharing a tiny room with three other new mothers. She had been given a C-section. She wasn’t sure that it was necessary. Apparently C-sections are far more common here than in the United States, and there may be a general problem with unnecessary surgery of other kinds. There are remarkably skilled surgeons here and some outstanding hospitals, but it’s important to make sure that the surgery is really needed.

I took my MRI chart and went to get second opinions, first visiting a surgeon at another hospital and then a physical therapist. Both of them explained to me that my knee trouble was still minor enough that surgery would be ill-advised right now. Better to rely on exercises and other steps to strengthen and protect the knee rather than jump to surgery. This made sense and I’ve began a program with the physical therapist that appears to be restoring my range of motion. Maybe I’ll need it later, but I’m glad to explore other options first. I feel that I came within inches of surgery that may have left me in a worse condition and with high expenses, some risk, and high inconvenience. If it weren’t for some confidence shaking experiences after checking into the hospital, I could have had unnecessary surgery. I’m relieved and even elated that I avoided the knife the second time.

At the same hospital, I had two encounters with the world of surgery, one a glorious success that made me whole again and one a near miss where I’m grateful to have escaped intact rather than have an unnecessary procedure that might have damaged me. Two similar events with trained, experienced men but with different sets of facts.

I was very lucky to have such a good experience with surgery, and perhaps even luckier to walk away from what might have been an unnecessary surgery on an overly trusting patient.

Do more homework, get second opinions, and for goodness sake, be careful when you cross the street over here!

By | 2016-10-24T05:58:01+00:00 August 9th, 2012|Categories: China, Health|Comments Off on Experiencing Surgery in China: One Great Experience, One Near Miss

Doritos Superbowl Commercial: Vandalism is Cute?!

The Doritos Superbowl commercial features a guy staring into his “crystal ball” and asking if there will be Doritos for him that day. Then he throws the ball into the glass front of the nearby vending machine stocked with nothing bus Doritos products, shattering it wide open for easy looting. “I think that’s a YES!” Ha ha. How many copycat pranks will we see this week?

I love the company, but hated the commercial.

By | 2009-02-01T16:53:52+00:00 February 1st, 2009|Categories: Health, Products|Comments Off on Doritos Superbowl Commercial: Vandalism is Cute?!

Alum in Potato Salad? Check the Ingredients!

My wife recently has purchased potato salads from Wal-Mart, Aldis, and Woodmans in Appleton, Wisconsin. The potato salad from Woodmans made by Garden Fresh Foods of Milwaukee had a peculiar flavor, my family noted. There was an unpleasant feeling in the throat similar to the irritation that sodium benzoate, a preservative, causes in some fruit punch drinks like Sunny Delight. Sure enough, sodium benzoate was an ingredient in the potato salad. But even more disturbing was the inclusion of alum. Hey, there is no need to dump alum into food. Alum contains aluminum ions, and higher aluminum levels have been found in the brains of Alzheimers patients. No, we don’t know if they are part of the problem or just a symptom, but while that remains unknown, I think we should be deliberately avoiding aluminum in our diet.

For information on the issue of aluminum and human health, see the objective page from the Ministry of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

By | 2017-12-05T06:14:52+00:00 July 14th, 2007|Categories: Consumers, Health, Uncategorized|Comments Off on Alum in Potato Salad? Check the Ingredients!

Heavy Metals and Autism?

While there have been many concerns from parents and some researchers about the possibility of a link between vaccines and autism, the medical community has generally dismissed the concerns, noting that some major studies have not found a statistically significant link between the two. A primary concern among those worried about vaccines has been the use of mercury in preparing the vaccines, resulting in the addition of a small amount of mercury into young children receiving some common forms of vaccinations (not all use mercury).

Interestingly, a new study of French children shows a possible link between autism and heavy metals in their bloodstream. As reported in The New Scientist, May 27, 2006, p. 21, Dr. Richard Lathe of Pieta Research of Edinburgh conducted the study of hundreds of French school children, monitoring the amounts of porphyrin proteins in their urine. Porphyrins are precursors of haem, the part of hemoglobin that carries oxygen. When there are unusual levels of heavy metals in the body, they block haem production and cause porphyrins to accumulate. Children with autism had one form of porphyrin at levels 2.6 times as high as normal children. Richard Lathe believes he has found a link between these levels and heavy metals in the body, versus a genetic factor. His group found that by using chelation therapy to remove heavy metals, the porphyrin levels were brought back to normal. It’s unknown whether chelation diminishes the symptoms of autism.

The key point here is that heavy metals may be a factor related to autism. And for those concerned about vaccinations, yes, mercury is one of the more notorious heavy metals – but even if Dr. Lathe’s conclusions are right, that still doesn’t necessarily mean that vaccinations have any link to autism. Further work is needed. And the medical community generally notes that the benefits of vaccination to millions surely outweighs the occasional risk to some. Do your own due diligence on this matter.

FYI, Dr. Lathe has authored a controversial book, Autism, Brain, and Environment (2006, ISBN 1-84310-438-5), suggesting that environmental factors may play a role in autism.

By | 2007-01-17T05:59:17+00:00 January 17th, 2007|Categories: Health|Comments Off on Heavy Metals and Autism?

Health Tip: Beware Arsenic in Chicken

When I first heard health food advocates warning of arsenic in chicken, I thought it was a crazy claim. Surely no sane person can believe that the chicken industry actually injects arsenic into chicken to help them grow bigger, which is what I heard from a relative into nutrition and health food. But a quick check on the Internet revealed some disturbing information.

As reported this year in the New York Times (see “Chicken With Arsenic? Is That O.K.?“), it has long been a common practice to inject chicken with small amounts of arsenic compounds to help ward of parasites. Some brands are arsenic free, but when you get chicken in fast food, you may be ingesting a small amount of arsenic. Granted, trace amounts of arsenic are everywhere, but I object to deliberately adding this cumulative poison to food.

Here is an excerpt from the story:

Those at greatest risk from arsenic are small children and people who consume chicken at a higher rate than what is considered average: two ounces per day for a 154-pound person. The good news for consumers is that arsenic-free chicken is more readily available than it has been in the past, as more processors eliminate its use.

Tyson Foods, the nation’s largest chicken producer, has stopped using arsenic in its chicken feed. In addition, Bell & Evans and Eberly chickens are arsenic-free. There is a growing market in organic chicken and birds labeled “antibiotic-free”: neither contains arsenic.

Dr. Paul Mushak, a toxicologist and arsenic expert, said that the fact that Tyson stopped using arsenic in 2004 is encouraging. “What that tells me as a toxicologist and health-risk assessor is that if a vertically integrated company like Tyson can do that then presumably anyone can get away from using arsenic.”

But there are still plenty of chickens out there with arsenic.

By | 2016-10-24T05:58:02+00:00 November 22nd, 2006|Categories: Crazy, Health|Comments Off on Health Tip: Beware Arsenic in Chicken

Dangerous Medicine from Pharmacists Who Forget to Shake Well

Here’s a good reason to shake well: the article “Shake Well Before Dispensing” by Dr. Kate Kelly (a pharmacist). This article points out that liquid medicines that require shaking may not have been properly shaken by the pharmacist before putting into your bottle, resulting in possible large variations in the actual dose you receive. Be diligent and make sure your pharmacist SHAKES WELL BEFORE SERVING you your bottle of medicine. And then continue to shake well every time before dispensing the medication.

By | 2017-11-17T04:32:13+00:00 September 17th, 2006|Categories: Health|Comments Off on Dangerous Medicine from Pharmacists Who Forget to Shake Well