As Dr. Marilyn Escobedo was briefed on the condition of the preemie, her heart broke.
Despite underdeveloped lungs, this baby would recover. But then the attending Chinese doctors informed her that this child, born a twin, was now an only child.
Not because the other baby simply couldn’t pull through, but because the parents lacked the money to pay for health care for two children. One baby received treatment, one did not.
This wasn’t necessarily a strange reality for the Chinese doctors, but for Escobedo, a neonatologist at the Oklahoma-based Children’s Hospital Foundation, the incident put into stark contrast the medical situations in the U.S. and China.
“One of the things I saw was that we are fortunate and we must preserve our ability to take care of babies, no matter the financial capability the parents have,” she said.
Escobedo and other CHF doctors visited Changchun, China, in June. The trip was just one form of outreach in a new type of partnership between CHF and Jilin University, aimed at helping Chinese doctors improve the country’s child medical and health care practices.
Dr. Shibo Li, director of CHF genetics laboratory, graduated from Jilin before pursuing his doctoral degree and career in the U.S. His colleagues, now leaders at the university, were looking for an opportunity to have their pediatrics faculty observe child medical care in the U.S., said Dr. Terry Stull, CHF board member.
“It’s really fairly good care that doesn’t have the resources that we have in the United States,” Stull said of health care in China. “And so the economy of China has improved so much that they’re interested in investing more resources in children’s health care.”
So the hospital has hosted several visiting doctors, here to observe treatments, practices and equipment and take the information back home.
When CHF doctors took their own visit to China, the changes to medical care had already begun, Escobedo said.
For instance, Children’s Hospital doctors put an emphasis on the developmental care of premature babies, one of the principles of which is to keep the babies unstressed. That means a quiet atmosphere, low lights, gentle handling and a soft mattress to maintain the feeling of the womb, Escobedo said.
“When I got to China, they even had nice little quilts over the incubators,” she said. “And they had the babies all appropriately swaddled. And they had changed that.”
According to Escobedo and Stull, It’s not the practices, but lack of medicine in China, that often causes problems.
While observing a preemie in China with an open ductus arteriosus ” a small passage in the heart that connects the pulmonary artery and the aortic arch ” Escobedo noted these children are usually treated with an intravenous drug to close the blood vessel. That drug was only available in oral form in China.
Equipment, too, is often lacking, but Chinese doctors have gotten very good at recreating American medical tools and resources with what they have available, Escobedo said.
While the Chinese have been on the receiving end of the bulk of information, American doctors have also learned much from the exchange.
“I think what I’ve appreciated most is the cultural exchange,” Stull said. “We’ve had an opportunity to see a part of the world we would not have otherwise seen.”
For Escobedo, the experience has given her renewed optimism in respect to the world. Two groups of professionals from distinctly different countries and social backgrounds share the same drive to improve the health and well-being of their young children, and that’s a truly hopeful scenario, she said.
“Despite our political differences, despite the hardships people may face, there’s always this creative spirit and the idea that we can do it and we can learn from each other.” “Nicole Hill
photo Dr. Marilyn Escobedo and Dr. Ye right from the Gansu Provincial Maternal and Child Hospital in the city of Lanzhou on the Yellow River.