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Progress and Challenges
July 26, 2006
Brecken Swartz
A big team meeting was held at Shriners Hospital this week to discuss Zhou Lin's case and try to formulate a plan for her future treatment. The surgery on her perineum which was scheduled for a couple of weeks ago turned out to be much more complicated than anyone imagined, and after several examinations, a dilation, and a full MRI of her pelvis, Dr. Sheridan has concluded that the condition of Zhou Lin's anal/genital area is the worst he's ever seen in all his years of working with burned children. Her big surgery on that area is scheduled for this Friday (July 28), and so prayers are very much needed to guide Dr. Sheridan's hands in a surgery that he is admittedly nervous about.

In the meantime, however, Zhou Lin has been making great progress at the hospital, both medically and socially. Her left foot is continuing to heal (the dark area that had been beneath her skin has been draining and turning into a dark scab that will hopefully slough off eventually), and the physical therapists have been starting Zhou Lin on the "tilt table" that helps her to start to gradually bear weight on her feet. She is only on the table a few minutes each day, but just the process of getting her erect is expected to help increase the density in her osteoporitic bones that haven't borne weight in three years. Zhou Lin is also learning to examine, care for, and wrap her own feet in ace bandages each time she is put on the tilt table, and so she is learning some of the necessary skills that she will need to soon start to independently use prosthetics. Her first appointment to be fitted with the prosthetic feet will be at Shriners Hospital in Springfield on August 4th.

Zhou Lin is getting along terrifically with the wonderful staff at Shriners, and her learning curve with English is really starting to take off now. She has almost completed book 5 out of the hospital's 6-volume phonics series, and she now understands English sounds well enough to be able to pick up words on her own. (For example, she heard me say the word "so" in a recent conversation with a nurse, and immediately went to a book I often read her to find that word and ask me what it means.) My two godsons Shawn and Paul (aged 14 and 16) came up from Maryland this week to visit Zhou Lin, and she was remarkably confident in interacting with them. She says "yeah" and "no" so naturally in conversations now that she sounds at times almost like an American teenager.

Her increasingly active social life notwithstanding, Zhou Lin is still very focused internally on walking again so that she can get home to China and live independently. Zhou Lin's qigong doctor continues to come by each week to give her massage to stimulate her blood vessels and to teach her some of the basic principles of qigong that she can continue throughout her life. She also received a visit this week from an Indian reiki healer who agreed that Zhou Lin has a gift for energy work that she may someday be able to use to help others.

The problem now is to figure out what will happen with Zhou Lin after the end of August. Her mother and teacher and I all need to go to China by the beginning of September, but the doctors at Shriners agree that Zhou Lin is not ready to head back to Sichuan yet. I have been searching in vain for a suitable host family here in Boston, but in the meantime it seems that we may have another possibility: I could take Zhou Lin with me to Beijing. There are excellent world-class hospitals there with proper physical therapy equipment, and with some funding (which I will do my best to raise), it may be possible to assemble a small burn/orthopedic team in Beijing that could benefit from all of Shriners' expertise, which they have committed to share freely in continuing Zhou Lin's care. One main benefit of this plan would be that the doctors at Shriners could work with internationally-trained doctors in Beijing, who could then work with Zhou Lin's doctors in Sichuan as a bridge, translating high-tech medical concepts in Chinese for Zhou Lin's low-tech hometown doctors. Zhou Lin would get a good start on her prosthetics within the international environment of my college in Beijing, and be able to develop some confidence and independence with them before heading back to the countryside. And if anything goes wrong with her treatment, it wouldn't be too hard to get Zhou Lin on a plane from Beijing back to Boston.

We are pinning some hopes now on the art auction we will be holding in August to raise funds for Zhou Lin's ongoing care. The date is set for August 20th, and we are hoping to raise several thousand dollars which can go toward paying medical expenses in Beijing, start to pay off some of her family's debts from the accident, and perhaps even provide some seed money for Zhou Lin's dream project to help start a free burn hospital for kids in China. The auction will be held at a wonderful co-housing community in Cambridge on August 20th, but we'll also be taking photos of Zhou Lin's paintings for the purpose of taking bids on-line. So stay tuned for details, and let me know if you want one of her paintings!

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