In January, a team of medical volunteers provided over 40 surgeries for children and adults in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Patients were treated for birth defects such as cleft lip and palette and microtia which is a malformation or absence of the ear/s. Thanks to our donors, I had the privilege of joining the team as the child life specialist.

Children and adults with birth defects usually suffer the psychological effects of isolation, bullying and stares. When a patient receives surgery, they also receive the gift of a new life.

Motivated by the desire to offer this gift, Dr. Craig Murakami began organizing missions in 2006. Dr. Sam Most has taken on that role since 2014. They have recruited volunteers including: surgeons, anesthesiologists, nurses and a pediatrician as well as administrative staff. This mission was a collaboration between Face to Face and Northwest Medical Volunteers, as well as our colleagues from Smile Cambodia.

Local volunteers provided essential support for nursing, biomed, patient registration and medical records. They worked tirelessly and patiently while tasked with translating in Khmer and English.

My role as a child life specialist, was to provide education and support to children, their families as well as the adult patients. Our donors support provided toys, games, books, arts and crafts and educational materials. Each patient received a Beanie Baby and it was so sweet to see their happy reaction.

The most popular activity for both children and adults was watching a Mr. Bean movie. Mr. Bean doesn’t speak and yet his humor carries through making it enjoyable for all ages. There was always a happy audience as I played the movie at least twelve times.

There is one word that describes the experience. Respect. It permeated every exchange. Patients were treated with such dignity and respect. That resulted in a visible trust between the patient and the medical team. There was mutual respect among the team. Each person was valued for their unique contribution to the team. Our team valued and respected the local volunteers. They treated us like trusted friends.

Back at home, I had two different healthcare experiences. One was irritating, the other was so exceptional I felt like a VIP. It’s my sense that every patient on that mission felt like a VIP. They received state of the art care by gifted and compassionate physicians. Further, their emotional and psychosocial care needs were considered and addressed. And let’s not forget, Mr. Bean!

Andrea M. Standish, CCLS
President, Founder
Certified Child Life Specialist
Standish Foundation for Child & Family Centered Healthcare