When Beijing obstetrician Xie Dan answered the government's call to work in Tibet for a year, she didn't expect the departure from her family to be so painful.
"My three-year-old son had a high fever on the day I left," Xie said. "For three days and three nights, he cried and looked for me. My mother later told me he had pneumonia."
Xie, 36, works for the Beijing Hospital of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Last summer she joined a group of 51 professionals and officials from the Chinese capital to help boost Tibet's development, a 14-year-old "Aid Tibet" program.
With more than 10 years of clinical experience, Xie got a warm welcome from her colleagues and patients at the Lhasa Hospital of Maternity and Child Care, where she works as a doctor and professor.
"Part of my job is teaching," said Xie. "I show my Tibetan colleagues how to teach nutrition to expectant mothers, carry out prenatal checkups properly to screen for congenital diseases and minimize the use of Caesarean sections."
In Lhasa, she said an overwhelming majority of women were willing to give birth at hospitals nowadays. "About 100 expectant mothers receive prenatal checkups at our hospital daily," Xie said as she planted willows in the Lhasa River Valley with about 40 other "aid Tibet" volunteers from Beijing -- including doctors and officials.
Seven months into her new job, Xie said Tibetans had deeply impressed her with their kindness and enthusiasm. "Some of my patients are peasants and herders from remote areas and do not speak a word of Mandarin. But they feel so grateful when they find out I'm from Beijing and they always find a way to express their thanks."
She recalled a herder woman, who was pregnant with her fourth child. "The couple were prepared for a Caesarean section, but when I checked on the woman, I found her condition was fine for a smooth delivery. She was so encouraged, she stopped panicking and gave birth to a healthy boy the next day."
The woman's husband, unable to speak Mandarin, had tears in his eyes and gripped Xie's hand for about 10 minutes. "I can never forget the look in his eyes. It was as if I were their savior."
China's one-child policy is strictly applied to urban couples but most rural people are allowed to have two children. In ethnic regions like Tibet, the policy is even more lax. Xie remembers a woman had her ninth child when she was 47. "In Lhasa proper, however, most working mothers have just one child or two," she said.
Still five months to go before returning to her job in Beijing, Xie said she had talked her home hospital's management into donating more facilities to the Lhasa hospital. "They've also promised to invite more Tibetan doctors to Beijing for one year of clinical practice."