January 19, 2007

Giving children a fresh start through surgical gifts

By Pablo Jaime Sáinz

Rosa Martinez was born with a dark lump of tissue the size of a golf ball under her chin. When she was three years old, she began to lower her head, ashamed, and she would make no eye contact.

Other children wouldn’t want to play with her because she was different.

Her large hemangioma, which consisted of thousands of enlarged blood vessels, was affecting her self-esteem and proper psychological development.

Her parents’ health insurance didn’t cover the expenses of a surgery that would remove the extra tissue. They couldn’t afford it either.

Rosa before surgery.

It was through Rosa’s pediatrician that they found out about Fresh Start Surgical Gifts, a nonprofit organization based in Carlsbad that provides free reconstructive surgery to disadvantaged children and young adults with physical deformities caused by birth defects, accidents, abuse, or disease.

After being accepted into the program, a team of volunteer doctors performed the surgery and carefully removed the dark-red growth.

Today, almost four years after the procedure and at age seven, Rosa wants to give back to Fresh Start and help other children who are in the situation she was before.

That’s the reason why she’s running in this Saturday’s Keebler Kids Mile at LegoLand on behalf of the young patients of Fresh Start Surgical Gifts.

Rosa and another Fresh Start patient, Antonio, were able to fundraise almost $1,000 for the event, money which will be used to help with the surgeries and medical attention of other children, said Amelia Devine, media relations representative for Fresh Start.

“It’s really been such an inspiration for our volunteer community to see these children want to give back,” Devine said. “They’re learning at a young age how good it feels to give back to the community. We’re really proud of them.”

For Rosa, who’s a really outgoing little girl, it’s just about lending a helping hand, just like someone did when she needed her surgery.

“I just want to help,” said second-grader Rosa.

Rosa’s story has also been an inspiration for her family. Her father, Gustavo Martinez, said that all the help and benefits Rosa has received from Fresh Start gave the family the desire to fundraise for the Keebler Kids Mile.

“It was an honor for us to do this,” Martinez said. “The surgery changed Rosa’s life for the good, forever.”

Rosa is only one of about 5,800 children and young adults that have received free health services from Fresh Start Surgical Gifts. About 3,000 of those were surgeries, Devine said.

Some of the other services offered are dental and speech services.

The most common physical deformities that are treated at Fresh Start are microtia, a congenital deformity of the outer ear, and ears sticking out too much.

There are more than 100 volunteers that make these transformations possible: doctors, dentists, nurses, companies.

Requirements for aid include having no medical insurance, or if current medical insurance doesn’t cover the costs of the surgery; ages 1 to 21; and suffering of a physical deformity. About 95% of the children who apply are accepted, Devine said.

More than half of the children who receive services from Fresh Start are Latinos, including children from all over the state of Baja California Norte, she added.

That’s why about half of Fresh Start’s staff speaks Spanish, she said.

Rosa after surgery.

The children and young adults accepted into the Fresh Start pro-gram receive their gift of a Fresh Start at Surgery Weekends, held six to eight times per year in San Diego, California at local surgery centers and hospitals. During Surgery Weekend a team of dedicated medical volunteers, including highly skilled physicians and nurses, medical technicians, and support staff donate their time and expertise to provide disadvantaged children with the highest quality medical services and on-going care.  

A typical Surgery Weekend involves approximately 10-15 major surgeries, multiple minor surgeries, laser treatments, and 25-30 multi-specialty patient evaluations. It also provides speech therapy.

Like Rosa’s, there are many success stories in the Fresh Start webpage.

There’s Andy’s story, who was just 12 when he underwent his first right-ear microtia reconstruction surgery.

There’s Son Sin’s story, who was born with a severe birth defect where a portion of his brain protruded through a hole in his skull.

Then there’s Tara’s story, who was born with a pigmented hairy nevus covering most of her chin.

For Gustavo Martinez, Rosa’s father, the good labor of the Fresh Start Surgical Gifts volunteers is priceless.

“I have no words for it,” he said.

If you would like to find out more about Fresh Star Surgical Gifts, you can call (760) 944-7774 or visit www.fresh start.org. There’s information and Spanish-speaking staff.

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