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Healing hands

(China Daily)

14:18, June 12, 2013

Children of China Pediatrics Foundation chief doctor David Roye has been providing free treatment for orphans since 1998. Lei Meng / for China Daily

Invited to help orphaned children with medical conditions, surgeon David Roye discovered a calling that has drawn him back to China many times

When Gena Palumbo, president and founder of Children of China Pediatrics Foundation, asked him to perform operations in Harbin, in Northeast China's Heilongjiang province, in 1998, David Roye, who had never visited the country before, replied he would work with her foundation on its China mission only once.

But the 66-year-old director of pediatric orthopedic surgery with the Columbia University Medical Center in the United States has visited China with CCPF every year since. In fact, he has been back six times in the past 12 months.

"I had worked in other countries, including Kenya and Romania, but in China I found the surgery I teach can be done because the hospitals are well equipped and the doctors really want to learn," says Roye, whose team operated on 45 children from different orphanages during CCPF's mission in the Chengdu Women and Children Central Hospital in Sichuan province from April 12 to 19.

One of the world's leading pediatric orthopedic surgeons, Roye has spent decades providing care to children around the world. Established in the United States in 1998, CCPF is a not-for-profit organization that sends pediatric medical teams from the US to China to provide medical education and perform surgery on orphans to correct disfiguring birth defects and disabilities.

Cooperating with the Ministry of Civil Affairs in China to offer free surgery for Chinese orphans with conditions such as cleft palate, cerebral palsy, urinary system problems, and in need of orthopedics, the CCPF medical team has visited Xi'an, Wuhan, Suzhou, Beijing, Weifang, Nanjing, Nanchang and Chengdu performing operations on hundreds of children. Roye has served as the chief medical officer of the CCPF for 15 years.

"I was impressed with Roye's love for patients. No matter how difficult an operation proved to be and how critical a condition a patient might be in, he was like the patient's parent and never gave up," says Sun Yongxia, a 49-year-old caretaker from an orphanage in Changsha, Hunan province.

Sun accompanied 14-year-old Chen Lang, who suffered from cerebral palsy, to Chengdu three times to seek help from Roye's team.

The 60-member CCPF medical team treated 45 children during its Chengdu mission this year.

Roye says: "Unfortunately there are some children we just cannot help, which really disturbs the team. We want to improve the lives of all these children."

Hailed as a successor to Norman Bethune, a Canadian surgeon who treated wounded Chinese soldiers when the country was fighting Japan during World War II and short of medics, Roye pays for all of his trips.

The children helped by Roye's team were abandoned and sent to orphanages often because the parents were unable to care for them. Most children in China's orphanages have disabilities.

Before each CCPF mission, a hospital provides a list of orphans, and the CCPF medical team and hospital discuss which children are suitable for surgical treatment. Some children have to be operated on several times to improve their condition, Roye says.

The fingers and toes of Hu Aiping, a six-year-old boy from Zhongjiang County Orphanage in Sichuan, had fused together.

The CCPF team separated his toes last year and separated his fingers during its mission to Chengdu this year, Roye says.

"The number of operations is not important. We emphasize quality and safety," he says, adding that last year after they separated a 4-year-old boy's fingers, he stared at them and then placed one on his nose.

"It was one of the most touching moments in the Chengdu mission," he says.

The CCPF medical team gave 12 lectures at Chengdu Women and Children Central Hospital during this year's mission. In one lecture, Roye, who is among a dozen surgeons in the world noted for the treatment of scoliosis (lateral curvature of the spine), talked about the evaluation and treatment of the condition.

Although Chengdu Women and Children Central Hospital is a leading facility in Chengdu, prior to the CCPF visit no one at the hospital had performed scoliosis surgery, says Hong Haiyang, deputy chief of the hospital.

During this visit, the team performed three spine surgeries.

Because of Roye's fame, adults also seek his help. Soon after he arrived in Chengdu on the evening of April 11, Li Xiaofang, a 26-year-old woman from the countryside of Yibin, Sichuan, visited him.

Suffering from scoliosis, Li waited for Roye's arrival in Chengdu since she learned about his charity work last year.

Although he was tired from his busy schedule and a long flight from Guangzhou, Roye checked Li and offered a solution. Roye did not have dinner until Li left at 10 pm that night, says Roye's assistant Xu Nanfang.

Roye has recently been awarded faculty privileges at Beijing Children's Hospital. In 2009, the American Association of Orthopedic Surgeons honored him with the Humanitarian of the Year Award.

Aware of the challenges facing healthcare reform in China, Roye founded International Healthcare Leadership (IHL) and serves as its president and CEO. A non-profit organization, IHL designs and implements educational programs in healthcare management and policies for government officials and healthcare executives in China. IHL has offered courses in Beijing to provide guidance to Chinese healthcare leaders on policy reforms.

In addition, the organization has worked with the faculty of Columbia University to help prevent hospital-acquired infections and to prevent the development of multi-drug resistant organisms.

With the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia, IHL has developed a China-specific curriculum for hospital presidents that will be offered at Columbia University, Roye says.

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