• Article
  • October 27, 2017

When Doctor Adopts Patient

A doctor's mission trip produces an unexpected addition to the family.

By Christine Bush

From left: Anna, age 5, before her first surgery; and as a teen, with her new nose.
From left: Anna, age 5, before her first surgery; and as a teen, with her new nose.

It's not uncommon for a couple immersed in their professions to decide that kids may not be in their future. Lisa Buckmiller, M.D., and her husband, Richard Hinkle, were at that point when they met an orphaned girl who would change the course of their lives.

The fall 2006 issue of Children's Hospitals Today featured the story of Gong Lu, an orphan in Fenyi, China. Administrators at the welfare center where she had lived since she was born had been searching for a doctor to remove the vascular tumor that covered Gong Lu's entire nose. They wanted the treatment done before making her available for adoption.

Buckmiller, who had traveled on several mission trips to China, along with doctors from Arkansas Children's Hospital, offered to help. At the time, Gong Lu was 5 years old, and with assistance from Love Without Boundaries, she traveled to the United States for surgery where Buckmiller and the vascular anomalies team removed 95 percent of the tumor.

After recovery, Gong Lu returned to the welfare center in China. She told the administrators there that she dreamt of no longer having the tumor, going to school and being adopted into a loving family. She didn't know the adoption process was in the works.

Fast forward a year, and Gong Lu is in the U.S., now Anna Gong Lu Hinkle, the adopted daughter of Buckmiller and Hinkle. "It's been amazing," Buckmiller says. "It has probably been the most rewarding thing in our lives to have adopted her." Within three months of arriving in her new home, Anna was undergoing more surgeries, one as long as 16 hours, to begin reconstructing her nose.

Her parents say they had to quickly figure out a few words in Chinese to communicate urgent needs and information. "It was shocking how fast she learned and became fluent in English," Buckmiller says. "The language barrier was never an issue."

Removal and reconstruction of her nose took six separate surgeries, and Anna had her last surgery at the age of 9. "I always wanted to get rid of my big, red nose," Anna says. "When I saw my face without that nose, I didn't recognize myself. It was a new look for my new life. I feel like all of the other kids now."

The family also checked off Anna's dream of going to school. Gong Lu had not been sent to school while in China, so she was two years behind academically. Anna worked with a tutor to make up a year, and then she studied on her own. Today she is a sophomore in high school.

The family moved to Texas where Buckmiller is the chief of the pediatric Ear, Nose and Throat Division at The Children's Hospital of San Antonio and continues to give her time to those in need through mission trips. For the past 18 years, Buckmiller has traveled to Kenya to repair children's cleft lips and palates. Anna went with her mom for the first time last March. "I fell in love with it," Anna says. "I'm excited about being able to make kids feel good about themselves the way I wanted to feel good."

Today, Anna has a new nose and the life she dreamt of, while her parents are enjoying a family they did not expect to create. "It just worked out beyond what my husband and I could have possibly expected," Buckmiller says. "And, it's reiterated my conviction of being available to help these kids with facial deformities have a more normal life. We were just able to go the extra step and bring Anna into our family.

Send questions or comments to magazine@childrenshospitals.org.