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Romania 2016 – Day 3

Our day begins with a team of 12 volunteers visiting the Little Prince Orphanage that houses children of varying mental disabilities. Amidst a presence from local TV anchors and radio journalists, the team builds a plan to scout for prospective patients and facilitate the local staff nurses. After a ten minute briefing the children begin to meet the teams helping hands. The kids are unaccustomed to the amount of activity around them and careful calm words are needed. Many of the children have down syndrome or cerebral palsy, and all have a disability of varying severity. Pairs of volunteers work together to ensure each child receives the attention they deserve. Several of the children cannot walk or are bedridden, others have complications of varying magnitude and require regular hospitalization. The wide scope of conditions keeps our team on the move; all the while children play in the courtyard’s summer sun.




I sit in during a session with Terry Petersen and a young boy with cerebral palsy who is suffering from aspiratory pneumonia. Due to his condition he cannot swallow properly and fluid builds within his lungs. Spending too much time laying flat, being bedridden, is increasing the severity of this ailment. Terry holds the boy and shows the staff how they can sit him up so that the fluid is able to clear more quickly. He had only just been released from a three week stint in the hospital, which he must do every 4 weeks. After a few moments of getting used to this new caress, he visually responds with a deep, tender look at Terry. In non-vocal patients, particularly the cases where a patient cannot leave the bed, the sound of music can help relax the children and provide stimulating surroundings. This is where a warm, firm touch can make all the difference, as Terry demonstrates. The eye contact the children make confirm confirm the love they feel when the volunteers take them into their open arms. The atmosphere is of dire concern and the volunteers do not have time on their side. By far the most difficult element of the morning is the limited time we get with each child. Seeing so many bright faces, it feels unfair to only have 10 minutes with each one, but it is critical the team see as many children as possible. I can see by their glistening eyes they want nothing more than to spend hours playing and holding the children. I step outside for a moment of calm to regain my composure.




The team provides techniques in speech therapy, stretches, and exercises to help the staff and improve the children’s quality of life. The local staff are vigilant, working in shifts of one nurse per home of 12 children with one additional nurse rotating between the three buildings at this site. Once or twice a year the home will receive a volunteer for a week and occasionally donated supplies. The facility is government funded, although 5 of the 6 houses were privately funded. The sixth house will be opening its doors in October and will be a temporary home for patients whose families are undergoing extreme circumstances. The complex is at capacity and the new home already has a waiting list. The lists are developed with the help of a team of 15 social workers who also coordinate with psychiatrists.


The last home we visit is embellished with hanging paper butterflies and flowers that the children made in a friendly competition between the houses. The kids have recently returned from a trip to the Black Sea, where they spent a week at a camp there. Three or four times a year they get to make this trip and you can tell just how much it means to them. In addition to these vacations, they sometimes take weekend trips to the nearby mountains.They are eager to share their experiences as I sit sandwiched between 6 of my new friends. We all laugh easily and smile freely; even without a translator we have a fun time of acting out what we are trying to say. The wash of color in this home amidst the backdrop of contemporary Romanian music elevates our mood as we finish consulting the last of the 62 patients.




As the day continues, we speak to some of the people waiting to be admitted to the clinic. There is a wide spectrum of ailments troubling people from all walks of life. I talk to a group of of four friends in their mid-twenties from a nearby community. Between the four of them, one is halfway through a teaching degree, one is an engineer, and two have masters degrees. Beside them is an older man who is suffering from complications from a foot surgery four months ago. He cannot walk without the help of a crutch, preventing him from working and doing many of his daily tasks. He has high hopes that the orthopedic doctors can provide him some relief. Nearby, 8 year old Darius is also hoping to see the orthopedic team to help him with a knee problem from a soccer injury that never healed quite right. This is a major issue for a young aspiring professional football player. I was fortunate to talk to a Roma family with three young daughters about their lifestyle. Their youngest is 6 years old and is having trouble focusing both eyes forward at once. Their mother works seasonally by the seaside and in the forests. All the while Dr. Hechler’s team has been working steadily, completing 10 successful surgeries. The clinic staff saw more than 110 patients today, another very busy day for team Romania.


I left the clinic in a contemplative mood, considering the wide range of emotions we had found today. Thinking of the past week in Romania, I recognized an underlying theme I will take home. It isn’t about what you don’t have, it’s about what you do have; and in this Romania, is rich in camaraderie and resilience.


The amazing photos from the Romania Mission are provided by Vlad Catana. You can follow his work at www.facebook.com/VladCatanaPh


Click on an image for larger gallery view.