Xyrene, the Internet Baby

Jenilyn did not want her baby, Xyrene, to be a number. Xyrene had been born with a complete cleft lip and palate and needed surgery—but not by just anyone, concluded the young mother.

Xyrene before surgery

Jenilyn had seen many children with repaired cleft lips and palates in her home area of Roxas, island of Panay, Philippines. Although most of the affected children in her area had had surgery by visiting western medical teams, many did not have good results. A lot of those children had significant postoperative malformations or flat, indistinct lips with no beautiful features. Furthermore, children who had had cleft palate surgery did not speak normally.

Jenilyn also knew that the visiting mission teams did many operations in a small amount of time— sometimes more than a hundred in a week or less—and she did not want this for her baby. The thought of her baby, Xyrene, being treated like a number and receiving a rushed surgery by a team that would leave immediately after the last surgery was intolerable for Jenilyn.

So she undertook what seemed like an insurmountable task: to find an organization that would treat her baby with great care and concern. Was this too much for a young mother in a poor country to wish for? Jenilyn didn’t think so. After all, Xyrene was her baby, her flesh and blood.

But how would Jenilyn find such an organization? She turned to the Internet. She found a number of volunteer organizations that traveled to the Philippines, and she began to study before and after pictures of the patients from each organization. Surprisingly, some groups’ websites had very few photos, and mainly photos of children before surgery. Any “after” photos were of poor quality or were not close-ups. Some of the groups seemed to boast about the large numbers they treated, which was a red flag to Jenilyn.

After much time on the Internet, Jenilyn finally found a website that caught her interest. It had many close-up, high-quality before and after photos of patients. The group’s website said that its emphasis was on quality results and follow-up care rather than numbers. The more Jenilyn read, the more she liked what the website had to say. The only problem was that the new-found organization (the International Children’s Surgical Foundation) did not come to her island. She grew sad as she knew she and her husband could not afford to travel very far.

Although geography was a problem, Jenilyn felt prompted to send an email to ICSF, requesting help, although she was unsure if the email would ever be answered.

Xyrene one year after surgery

I was thrilled to receive Jenilyn’s email and answered her immediately. When I found that she lived far away from ICSF’s closest mission site, I arranged for our local Filipino ICSF nurse to contact Jenilyn and pay for her and her daughter to come for an evaluation at ICSF’s mission at the city of Cadiz on the island of Negros. On that first visit, it was obvious that baby Xyrene was too small for surgery at that time — so Jenilyn was given a surgery date for several months later at another ICSF mission location. Even though Jenilyn was disappointed, she knew she had found the right organization for her child, and she smiled confidently as she was given the new date.

In July 2013, at long last Xyrene’s surgery date came, and the young family made the long trip, by land and by sea. Just prior to the surgery, as I examined the little girl, anesthetized there in front of me on the operating table, I thought of the young mother and father, patiently waiting in the neighboring wing of the hospital. I felt a great duty to do my very best and to take all the necessary time to produce the best possible result. I felt glad to be with ICSF so that I would not be pressured to hurry, as I had been in my previous work with other groups.

Bit by bit, suture by suture, as the new little face began to take form before my eyes, I often thought of Jenilyn and how she entrusted her daughter to us. I thought of ICSF’s donors far away — and although totally unaware of the events unfolding before my eye, they had contributed to mother Jenilyn’s and baby Xyrene’s lives in enormous ways. After more than three hours of surgery, I placed the final stitch. As Xyrene began to stir during emergence from anesthesia, I thanked God for the privilege of being part of her care. I was glad Jenilyn had found ICSF on the internet and glad that her baby had not become a number with a larger mission organization.

The ICSF team cared for Xyrene for more than a week after the surgery. I was fortunate to be there when the young family got into a taxi and headed for the bus station. Jenilyn’s face was riveted on her baby, except for a brief moment when she turned around to wave at us. Her beaming smile was all the pay I needed.

To our supporters, please know that you are not donating to an ordinary organization. ICSF is unique in its commitment of time and quality care to each child. I hope you are proud to be part of Xyrene’s new look and Jenilyn’s relief and happiness. “Everyone Was Born to Smile!”

Dr. Geoff Williams
President, ICSF
P.O. Box 4594
Boise, Idaho 83711-4594
(208) 375-8132

Design by Melissa Ventura, Development by Drew Bertola and Walter Martin.