The miles proved no imped­i­ment. The bor­ders didn’t get in the way.

In July, a team from North­eastern University’s physical-​​therapy pro­gram spent two weeks in Changsha and Bei­jing, China, working with young patients who had suf­fered severe burns.

Lorna Hay­ward, asso­ciate pro­fessor in phys­ical therapy; clin­ical pro­fessor Ann Char­rette; and grad­uate stu­dent Li Li per­formed phys­ical eval­u­a­tions and treat­ments, admin­is­tered play therapy and taught proper scar-​​management tech­niques at the JianShe and Air Force Gen­eral hospitals.

North­eastern and Han­dReach, an inter­na­tional net­work of med­ical pro­fes­sionals and vol­un­teers that pro­vides poor chil­dren with quality health care, co-​​sponsored the trip.

Doing this type of work has become my internal fabric,” says Hay­ward, who takes groups of physical-​​therapy stu­dents to orphan­ages in Quito, Ecuador, each spring as part of an experiential-​​learning opportunity.

Chil­dren com­pose between 50 to 60 per­cent of China’s 10 mil­lion burn vic­tims, making reha­bil­i­ta­tion ser­vices for kids a top pri­ority there. Hay­ward says she hopes to make therapy that addresses pain through play a main com­po­nent of treat­ment for patients and their fam­i­lies who aren’t able to afford medication.

Finding ways to deal with pain without med­ica­tion appears to be a long-​​term struggle that Chi­nese doc­tors, patients and fam­i­lies must be pre­pared to accept, says Li. “Having kids play with toys, interact with music or alle­viate their pain in other ways is some­thing we still need to work on,” she says.

In Bei­jing, a group of ther­a­peutic drum­mers and musi­cians from the Smith­sonian Insti­tu­tion, in Wash­ington, D.C., played instru­ments with the kids.

It’s a way for kids to have fun while pro­cessing grief and dealing with the pain,” said Hay­ward, who notes the need for patients “to get up and moving imme­di­ately” after sur­gical procedures.

Li, who also served as a trans­lator, was par­tic­u­larly fond of a shy little girl who liked to hide. Even­tu­ally, she con­vinced the young­ster to join her peers, who raced around obstacle courses, danced and played outside.

It’s very touching and rewarding to work with these kids,” says Li, whose long-​​range pro­fes­sional goals include reforming the field of phys­ical therapy in China, where hos­pi­tals reg­u­larly employ 16-​​year-​​old nurses who have just one year of clin­ical experience.

Hay­ward hopes North­eastern can build a lasting part­ner­ship with the Air Force Gen­eral Hos­pital, which would serve as a per­ma­nent co-​​op site for gen­er­a­tions of phys­ical therapy and nursing students.

We need to blend the two worlds together in a way that lets good tech­nique and sen­si­tivity to cul­tural prac­tices remain intact,” she says. “It would be a life-​​changing expe­ri­ence for any stu­dent who works there.”