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2 posts from December 2015


To the Survivors...

There is something that happens to an individual when they face down the brink of annihilation.  When one watches body parts disfigure or disappear entirely.  There's something that happens when one faces death, but chooses life.  When someone like this chooses to come back among us, there are wings that sprout, it seems.

I work among burn survivors, like my daughter ZhouLin.  Witnessing her and others face down our planet's most terrifying monsters -- pain, violence, abandonment -- and lie bloody in a hospital bed for weeks and months on end has changed something deep inside me.

I feel like a little girl running back to basecamp from the battlefield -- from human life's most epic battlefield -- slow and clumsy, but with big news....

"There are survivors!," I report.  "They are wounded… They're suffering."

People at base camp stare at me for a second, then go back to what they were doing.

I blink in shock as people continue eating, drinking, being merry.  A few of my little friends mount ponies, and  follow me with our tiny supplies to the battlefield.  They come, they see with their own eyes, we blink in the enormity of what we witness.  We ride back to basecamp on our ponies for more supplies.

Basecamp is becoming a coliseum, people fighting it out over ideology, over sport, over anything they can find.  They make up games so they can beat each other up.... or worse.  They play games of killing each other.

I choke out my news from the battlefield again, louder now, tears dripping down....  

"There are survivors," I yell!  "They are wounded… They are suffering!"

No one hears, no one comes.  I contemplate climbing up a tree, doing something more drastic to get their attention.  But my friends on their ponies are ready with supplies again, so back we go.

We go back to the battlefield, and...  the wounded are helping each other.  No one else has shown up, so with their bloody hands and missing limbs, they do their best to put each other back together again.  

Most of the supplies they need are back at the camp, but no matter.  They are using the Universe's most basic tools -- love, and grit, and prayer -- and they are healing!

There is light shining from their eyes. And I love them.

I choose not to go back to base camp.  Unless base camp chooses to come to us.  

It's among survivors that heaven comes down.


Brecken Chinn
November, 2015


Watch this 9-minute news story on Alan Breslau, a hero to burn survivors worldwide.


Wrapping up in Beijing

Well, our team is packing up to depart Beijing today and head back home.  We all feel like we are leaving big pieces of our hearts and souls with the patients, families, and staff here -- not only have we left surgeries, splints, prosthetics, ideas, instruments, supplies, and techniques behind, but even more importantly, we've all framed questions that will drive our work as we move forward with our colleagues here in China and elsewhere to significantly improve treatment for burn-injured children.
HandReach will be centrally involved in planning next year's Second Annual International Trauma Congress here in China, which we've decided together with our colleagues to hold in Changsha in conjunction with the opening of a state-of-the-art rehab center for Hunan Province, home to China's largest burn-injured population.  It's clear that the rehab program here in Beijing is maturing very well, and with the inauguration of our Prosthetics Unit Project at the Air Force Hospital yesterday, we feel that our goal to have a model burn unit in Beijing is definitely well on its way, allowing us to turn our attention to other provinces where the gap between patient needs and availability of good care is especially acute.  

We've decided to undertake research projects in five areas that mirror HandReach's mission to integrate surgery, nursing, rehab, orthopedics, and psychosocial care.  We'll be continuing to research the best techniques to reduce burn scarring, adding to our investigation of scar massage techniques a formal trial of the Chinese medicine our colleagues here in Beijing have been using compared with the silver sulfadiazine treatment currently in use at the US Army Surgical Research Institute.  We'll continue to research massage and rehab techniques to improve both scarring and function of injured limbs, and we'll move forward dramatically this year developing collaborative ways to provide custom prosthetics for burn-injured children in conjunction with our colleagues at Shriners Springfield.  This year, we plan to work more closely with nursing colleagues in both the US and China to find ways to bring patients more effectively from surgery through rehab and eventual discharge with the best possible outcomes.

The issue that has been heaviest on all of our hearts after working here in China is the excruciating pain experienced by patients -- both physical pain from difficult procedures like debridement, dressing changes, and aggressive rehab, endured without a speck of pain medicine, as well as the heartbreaking emotional pain engendered by facing a life of limitation ahead, being bankrupted by hospital stays and living in a society with little acceptance for physical difference.  Our team has worked with great compassion and dedication during the time here to provide distraction for patients shrieking and sobbing their way through painful procedures, but there's only so much we can do when the patients already start crying as soon as they approach the rehab room, anticipating the pain they will receive.  We are all dedicated to finding methods that will be received by staff, parents, and patients in helping children relax and make it through their hospital stay without undergoing even further trauma than they've already received from their injuries.  Pain management is a chronic source of heartache for all the clinicians who come through this environment, and we are deeply committed to finding culturally-appropriate ways to lessen children's trauma, both in the short and long term.

We were delighted to be joined yesterday by a team from the Beijing communications firm, Continental Media, which sent seven representatives and two cameras to witness our programming at the burn unit and the ribbon-cutting ceremony for our Prosthetics Unit Project.  They are committed to working with us to plan an event for January 2012 to inaugurate China's branch of the Phoenix Society, the world's largest association of burn survivors, and to involve corporate sponsorship, greater media coverage, and broad social networking to support our work in building a better future for China's many burn survivors.  Our work has also been picked up by Tencent.com, a Chinese web portal some have likened to a Chinese version of Yahoo!.   Interest from within China is definitely growing to address the trauma injury epidemic in this developing economy, and we are excited to link efforts in the US and worldwide with this budding community within China for greatest impact within the coming months.

Our team this summer had several team members returning from last year, and it looks likely we'll have a significant number of team members return next year and in the future as well.  There is nothing more gratifying than to see children we've worked with show significant gains each time we come.  HandReach feels more and more like a loving and growing family.  Many asked to see photos of my adopted daughter, Zhou Lin, who was with our team last year.  Seeing her photos from her senior prom and graduation, and now seeing her involved in driving lessons, more and more patients and families are expressing hopes and dreams for a future very different from what is available to them now.

We've been very specifically discussing concrete plans to reach the extremely high bar we set when HandReach launched the Children's Healing Initiative in 2006 -- to develop burn units, or even burn hospitals, for children in China that operate without cost to patients or their families, just like the Shriners Hospitals that so skillfully treated Zhou Lin.  Clearly all the surgeries, nursing, rehab, orthopedics, and psychosocial care the Shriners provide come together in amazing ways to support kids in reaching forward toward amazing lives.  This is something we as a planet can and must do.  

We've been sobered to find that trauma injuries cost our world more productive hours than cancer and heart disease combined.  Rolling up sleeves and working to truly address this problem, child by child and hospital by hospital, feels like one of the most beautiful pursuits we as a human race can make.  We are enormously moved and grateful to have such skillful, compassionate, dedicated, amazing team members joining hands to significantly improve the lives of injured children who need our care most.  We at HandReach all dream that someday there will be nowhere on this planet where a child can be injured that is out of reach of the best care our human family can provide.

Off to the airport soon!  Better finish packing...


July 1st 2011


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