Little Red Scarf is in Lanzhou, Gansu and Yunnan province and provides financial support and encouragement to children suffering from congenital heart disease. In addition, they provide families with post-operative care and help the children sustain a healthy lifestyle.
On May 7th, a call came in from an unrecognized number. When we answered, an excited man on the other end of the line said that the family had a child with congenital heart disease. In the neighboring village, Tong Tong, a child with congenital heart disease, had just undergone a successful surgery with the help of Little Red Scarf. This was the phone number that Tong Tong’s grandfather had personally given them, coming to their home to offer the phone number despite never having met them before.
The child with congenital heart disease in this man’s home was named Yu Mei, and she had just turned 3 years old. She was born in eastern Gansu in a remote mountain village, and was the second youngest in a family of six girls. Laughingly, her father explains that in rural tradition, families had to have a boy. Their pursuit of a son is how they ended up having so many children.
Yu Mei’s father had wanted her to have surgery early on, but the family had limited resources. When Yu Mei was just over a year old, he had gone to register with other congenital heart disease aid organizations but had waited over a year without any news. They knew Yu Mei had a problem from the time she was only 6 months old and the family took her to the hospital for a check up because she was so noticeably different from the other children and looked purple. Based on Little Red Scarf’s experience, Yu Mei’s condition sounded more severe than the average case, and therefore required the care of the most expert pediatric congenital heart disease specialists.
May 11 – When Yun Yun saw the image of Yu Mei sent by the hospital, she was shocked by the child’s coloration. Her entire face was purple, her lips were black, her fingers and toes were black, and her eyes were bloodshot. At first sight, it was obvious that Yu Mei was very ill. The examination results at Lanzhou Hospital showed multiple problems, including a pulmonary stenosis, endocardial cushion defect, and total anomalous pulmonary venous connection. Because of the severity of her case, Little Red Scarf quickly approved Yu Mei’s application, to the happy surprise of her father. Remembering how Tong Tong’s mother cared for her alone in the hospital while Tong Tong’s grandfather had gone to hand-deliver Little Red Scarf’s phone number to Yu Mei’s family, Yu Mei’s father compared Little Red Scarf like a relay race in which parents pass the baton to one another in a race against time to save more lives!
Yu Mei’s father overcame many challenges as he brought her to the hospital. He had to leave his other young children in the care of Auntie Yun. Meanwhile, Yu Mei refused to stop moving around, wanting to walk wherever she pleased even as her color worsened and her breathing grew more labored. In order to make Yu Mei, Auntie Yun had to pull out all the stops – first, she tried chewing gum, but Yu Mei would chew it twice, spit it out, and demand a new piece. Next, she tried giving Yu Mei her own cake and fruit, but Yu Mei didn’t want to eat. She just wanted to climb about, causing even more worry. Fortunately her father returned quickly.
Yu Mei’s father is 50 years old. He has a strong physique and speaks clearly. When you see him, you can tell he is a capable farmer, but because he has to support so many children, and his family has fallen on multiple hardships, life has been difficult. His first wife died early, leaving him with three daughters to look after and no one to help; thus he was forced to be both a father and mother to his children. He married again in 2009, this time to Yu Mei’s mother, and because of the local custom that emphasized male children, the couple continued to try for a son. The couple had 3 more daughters—Yu Mei was the second youngest, while the youngest is only 10 months old. Because of Yu Mei’s consistently poor health, and the many children, Yu Mei’s father had no way to work outside the home. With 8 acres of land, the family’s own harvest was just enough to feed them; in recent years, they have relied on raising pigs to support themselves financially. Because of the lower selling price for live pigs, Yu Mei’s father has been selling pork instead— meat from 10 pigs per year can fetch 30,000 yuan, which was just enough to cover last year’s costs. However, his three oldest daughters are very bright and have been admitted into university. The family is 90,000 yuan in debt, and Yu Mei’s father took an additional 40,000 yuan loan from the bank to cover the costs of Yu Mei’s medical care. Unfortunately, Yu Mei’s condition is so severe that it will likely require two surgeries, and the 40,000 yuan will not be enough to cover them.
Yu Mei is very attached to her father. When she has trouble breathing, her father holds her and she wraps her arms around his neck to maintain the position, like a small raccoon clinging to a tree. This is the only way she can manage the discomfort.
After last weekend, there was quickly news of Yu Mei’s surgery. However, the news was not good. Yu Mei had developed chicken pox and was running a high fever of over 39 degrees Celsius. Her face and head were covered in pustules as if she had been burned so that it was painful to look at her. Her father didn’t even leave her side to make a phone call or use the bathroom. Instead, he held his posture firm like a tree to keep Yu Mei comfortable as she hugged him. After a full day and night, he looked haggard, but still worked to stay still to give Yu Mei even a little comfort. This father of six never gives up. But his eyes reveal the helplessness he feels, which grieves us to see.
Yu Mei’s father knew he had to wait for the chicken pox to go away before he could take her back to the hospital. Thus, the surgery was delayed again. Postponing the surgery was not cheap, but because chicken pox is contagious, the operating team was at risk for being infected if they proceeded.
The chicken pox was itchy and painful, causing Yu Mei to scratch herself incessantly. Ever few minutes her father would rub soothing lotion on her to try to protect her skin, and offer her temporary relief.
Yu Mei’s older sister has hurried back from her college in northeastern China, which has made their father very happy because he can finally relax somewhat. Yu Mei has also calmed down substantially, eating sweets from Yun Yun and snacks that her older sister brought back. Everybody’s emotions are finally stable.
Yu Mei’s hospitalization has been full of twists and turns. I hope that the chicken pox will go away and that Yu Mei will get well soon!
Original Article Written by Ying Guan, translated by Shau-Ru Lin Chao, edited by Yanyan Zhang
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