Mission Director, Tom Fox recounted a story from his October 2009 Rotaplast trip to Cebu. It was a Sunday morning, his day off, and he was taking a walk around the city. Along his walk, he passed through the nightclub district. The streets were long deserted from the bustling of nightlife activities. In a deserted parking lot, Tom spotted a small girl playing with a cardboard box. This girl had a cleft lip. Her name was Nina. She was 5 years old.
Tom approached her and took a photo, which scared Nina and prompted her to run to her parents. Tom followed her to her home to talk to her parents and convince them that he meant no harm. Unfortunately, the “home” was a spot on the street comprised of cardboard and tarps against a concrete wall. The parents thought that Tom was with the authorities and was going to make them move. When Tom realized that he wasn’t going to be able to effectively communicate with the family, he left.
Later that morning, Tom enlisted the help of local Rotarian, Anton Florendo to come with him and speak to the family. Anton was able to let the family know about the Rotaplast mission that was happening just a few blocks away and successfully convinced them to come to the hospital for evaluation. Nina underwent surgery for her cleft lip.
This is Nina’s Pre-Clinic photo in 2009.
Above is a picture of the operative note from Nina’s surgery, showing the surgeon’s diagram of the condition, an incomplete cleft lip, and his repair, a Millard rotation advancement cleft lip repair.
Nina’s surgery was a success. However, the story does not end there. In 2015, Tom was back in Cebu and set about trying to locate Nina. He went back to the same neighborhood and showed people the photo he had of Nina, asking if they knew where she was. He found her and she was THRIVING. She looked healthy and had a set of friends with her (Nina is on the far right in the group photo below). But wait…there’s more.
Tom was in Cebu again two years later. Once again, he found Nina around the same neighborhood and was astonished at how grown up she looked. They spent some time together grocery shopping and bid each other farewell.
This morning, Tom and Anton went back to the neighborhood again, showed photos and asked about her. They were told that Nina is married and lives in Mactan, a city about 45 minutes away. Imagine what Nina’s life might have been like without the surgery that Rotaplast supplied.
Anton and Tom after their travel to Nina’s old neighborhood.
Making The Rounds
Although there are no surgeries being performed today, the doctors visit the ward early in the morning to check on the patients from yesterdays surgeries. Here, Medical Director Rod Simonds, MD, Surgeon James Hoyt, MD, Surgeon Gary Salomon, MD and Surgeon Todd Farnworth, MD pose for a picture before heading out to explore Cebu.
We Are Family – The Ebarita Brothers
On February 4, 2023, one of the Advent Hospital nurses, Venus, was talking with a friend of hers that live in the mountains on Cebu City. Her friend was telling her about the Ebarita’s, a family nearby in Kantipla, Cebu City (a low-income area) that she had seen a few times. She noticed that not one, but two of the four children had cleft lips. Once she heard about Rotaplast coming to Cebu in just 3 short weeks, she gave her neighbor, Neselia the information to get on the Pre-Clinic list. The children John Lourence, 10 and John Mark, 13 were hesitant to have the surgery, thinking that they were too old. Venus sent photos to her friend of past Rotaplast patients that were older in an effort to help convince the family.
Although the boys and the mother got on board, the father was vehemently against going to the Pre-Clinic, as he feared his children would die during surgery. The Ebarita’s, who work at a nearby farm, have no phone and no television…leaving them quite isolated and with limited access to education. Despite her husband’s wishes, Neselia began the journey to Cebu City with John Lourence and John Mark.
Because their house is so far up in the mountains, the only mode of transportation that can navigate the terrain is a motorbike. After a 2-hour rented motorbike ride, the Ebarita’s then took a 3-hour bus ride from JY Square (a mall) to Colon, a town in Cebu. They had to transfer 4 different times before they got there. From Colon, they took a Jeepney (shown above) to the hospital. All told, their journey took 6 hours.
John Lourence was bullied a lot at school, a very common theme that runs through almost all of the Rotaplast patients. He would literally take matters into his own hands and throw a few punches when classmates would make fun of him. John Lourence is also described by many to be VERY smart, in the top 4 of his class.
John Mark mostly keeps to himself. His mother is discouraged by how reclusive he has become over the years.
Their surgical procedures were originally scheduled for later in the week, but in light of the distance and difficulty of travel, Venus asked the doctors if they could fit them in on the first day of surgery. Neselia, John Mark and John Lourence spent Wednesday and Thursday night on the ward. They had no change of clothes or toiletries.
On Thursday John Mark went into surgery first. His complete lip repair surgery was expected to last 1 hour. Neselia had so much anxiety, hoping that her husband’s fears would prove to be unfounded. She waited outside the operating room while John Lourence waited alone upstairs on the ward for his turn. Below, Historian Debi Friedmann utilizes a translator to ask Neselia about her journey.
The tears that Neselia cried when she was reunited with John Mark in the PACU were mixed – many tears of joy for John Mark’s successful surgery and tears of fear for John Lourence’s upcoming surgery. She then had to leave John Mark (who was lethargic from anesthesia) alone while she accompanied John Lourence to surgery. His bilateral cleft lip repair surgery was expected to take 2 hours.
When both of her boys were out of surgery and laying by her side, Neselia felt nothing but joy and gratefulness. The next thing occupying her mind was the long journey home with two children still recovering from surgery and making sure her boys stayed healthy.