Providence has several definitions, for our purposes, we will refer to the third meaning in the Oxford dictionary: “the timely preparations for future eventualities.”
For months, her DRC cardiologist had lobbied and advocated for us to help her. Her family subsisted with little income and much prayer. We accepted her as a candidate. This is how we came to meet Juliana, a polite, yet precocious 5-year-old. After much preparation and countless hours of time-zone challenged coordination, inter-country negotiations, visas, and echocardiograms submitted, she had arrived blue-lipped, tired, and nauseated, having just traveled on her first airplane ride from Kinshasa, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, (DRC) to Dar Es Salaam in Tanzania, where we were based for our cardiac mission. Neither she nor her mother spoke English or Swahili, so I stepped in as their interpreter and communicated with them in French, explaining things as they came up.
Our US-based cardiology team and our Italian based Vatican team worked with the local Tanzania doctors and ran a few more exams, a new set of echoes, and then scheduled her for surgery. She would be one of 15 surgeries scheduled for the week. Three hearts a day.
But all systems ground to a halt when her mother objected, wanting her daughter to have her heart fixed through interventional catheterization. We were taken aback. Why? Her hole was too large. It either had to be surgery or Juliana and her mother would have to return home to an uncertain future. We were stunned, months of timely preparations and coordination wasted, other kids denied an opportunity, we didn’t understand how she could get so close only to give it up. It turns out that Juliana and her family were Jehovah’s witnesses. She could not have open-heart surgery. She could not accept a blood transfusion, as this went against the tenets of their faith. Mending Kids as an organization believes that all children deserve a healthy future.
We do not screen, nor do we classify children by their religion. We operate on any child in need, provided the parent gives this permission. Would we have accepted her into the program, had we known this? Very good question, yet here she was, in front of us, a life that could be saved, yet a roadblock ground us to a halt.
Frustration was mounting. Another child in the schedule was moved up so that we would not lose precious surgical time during our five days there. The mom called her husband in the DRC to consult and pray with him, waiting for elders in their church to weigh in, time ticking away. Finally, the father agreed to have Julianna receive surgery, only she could not receive any blood. Open-heart surgery without a transfusion?
Providence stepped in when our perfusionist, the person who would monitor the heart-lung machine (designed to act as a mechanical heart and lung oxygenator to keeping all of her organs functioning while our surgeon mobilized her heart to fix it), declared that he could help her. He had experience with Jehovah’s witness patients. And, as it turns out, was one of a handful of perfusionists in Europe capable of doing so. And here he was with us on a cardiac mission in Tanzania! Our surgeon felt obligated to save her and with the support of our perfusionist, felt that she had a shot, so they moved to proceed. This would be no walk in the park.
When Juliana was placed in the operating room theater, the Tanzanian nurses surrounded her and laid their hands on her heart, and prayed in Swahili for her wellbeing. The Italian team stood back while they went ahead with their spiritual communique. Juliana wide-eyed and nervous looked at them, not understanding a word, while her mother was in the waiting room praying in french with her father on a long-distance call to Kinshasa.
The surgery was a success. Juliana received her lifesaving surgery and defied the odds to survive. Her days in the ICU were many as she was very slow to recover. Her mother sat at her bedside watching over her and fretting and complaining that she wasn’t making fast enough progress. Post-operative kids were cycling out of the ICU to the ward and yet Juliana remained. Her body was anemic and needed to produce the new red blood cells that she would need to regain her strength. We explained all this to the mom, that her daughter would have been out faster had she received a transfusion. Julianna did recover and traveled home and back to her family and community. Their prayers were answered.
The enormity that Juliana, a poor, young girl born in a country without a comprehensive cardiac program, found her way to a cardiologist, to a host country that would accept a foreign child, and with Mending Kids team at the right time on the perfect mission, made possible by the gifts of hundreds of strangers who would never meet her but somehow believed in her right to have a future ... If this wasn’t an example of providence, no matter what you believe, I don’t know what was.
Together, we are Mending Kids.
Thanks to your heartfelt support and generous donations from the Open Hearts Foundation and Brand Jonseck, we made our way to South Central, Los Angeles last week to deliver disposable and reusable masks to three amazing, heroic, and empowering community groups. We started with a stop at community lifeline South L.A. Cafe where each week 150 families receive needed groceries, then HOPICS an outreach program for the homeless and their families that offers an integrated care program, and finally Engage The Vision an organization committed to mentoring students in Watts. These are places where heroes work. Day in and day out they tirelessly, humbly and diligently serve, feed, advocate, and empower the youth of hardworking communities desperately holding onto the last threads of a frayed safety net, in addition to the anonymous-many swept into the current of homelessness.
The silver lining after months of providing PPE is a growing network of diverse groups have formed to amplify resources and support each other. Every mask donated has provided an opportunity for Mending Kids to spread some goodwill, keep people safe, and provide grassroots outreach for our Hometown Mission. The goal of this mission to deliver free surgical care to children whose family may not know that this opportunity is available to them.
One thing is certain, the day spent navigating unfamiliar zip codes was sobering. Health disparity is ripe and all around us if we are brave to open our eyes and see. Together, we have the power to make a difference in a child's life.
Gebaon is one of our cardiac patients who received open-heart surgery during our cardiac mission to Dar es Salam, Tanzania. He was the first patient in Tanzania to be successfully operated on with a Fontan procedure. Through an arrangement with the Jakaya Kikwete Cardiac Institute and because time was of the essence, Mending Kids made arrangements for Gebaon and his mother to fly from Ethiopia last year to join the mission in Tanzania. The recovery was long and complex and he is now doing very well.
In wake of the recent and current travel restrictions, we as Mending Kids have adapted our approach to most optimally continue our mission of international healthcare. As you may know, our mission consists of a two-pronged approach of treatment and education.
Unfortunately, one of those prongs, treatment, has been severely impacted due to this pandemic. With the inability to go on international missions, Mending Kids and our doctors yearn to return to the countries we serve. However, while physically we are stagnant, with the help of technology we are grateful to be able to virtually connect across the world and continue our other fundamental mission - education.
On July 23rd, we held our first international educational symposium on critical congenital heart disease at birth. The event was led by Dr. Darren Berman of Nationwide Children’s Hospital and Dr. Evan Zahn of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, who were joined by presenters Dr. Kaitlin L’Italien of Nationwide Children’s Hospital, Dr. Ruchi Garg of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, and Dr. Corey Stiver of Nationwide Children’s Hospital. We had almost 200 attendees from over 21 countries and 4 states. The event was greatly successful and we hope to only improve in the future.
We are excited to announce that we will be hosting our second symposium Post-procedural Care of Complex Congenital Heart Disease with Dr. Berman and Dr. Zahn on September 22nd, 2020. Click below to register for our second symposium.
Who ever thought that sending our kids back to school would be analogous to sending them to the frontlines? Where do we go from here? What do we do? We act. So the countdown is on for the conclusion of our first round of bidding on the masks that were created by cool individuals such as Gene Simmons, Matthew McConaughey, Courteney Cox, Thandie Newton, Kaia Gerber, Gus Van Sant, and Mallory Lewis and Lambchop. All threw their masks in the ring for our first MASKrAID Campaign to support kids and teachers returning to the classroom.
On deck for the next round are Annie Potts, Katharine Ross Elliott & Sam Elliott, Top Chef Antonia Lofaso, Tom Jenkins, Cheryl Kennedy, Young Sheldon's Iain Armitage, Modern Family's Marcello Reyes, and competitive skiers - the MoCrazy Sisters.
We recognize that bidding to win one of the masks may be challenging, but if you would like to support our MASKrAID campaign please consider the gift of the price of a cup of coffee and help us provide schools with PPE.
You can donate through the MASKrAID site or Venmo us @mendingkids and let us know you are with us.
As importantly, in an effort to stay connected with our colleagues overseas, we presented our first symposium on congenital heart disease. Almost two hundred participants registered for the event that was co-led by Dr. Evan Zahn of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and Dr. Darren Berman of Nationwide Children’s Hospital. Among them were cardiologists and medical professionals from Brazil, Tanzania, Egypt, Malawi, Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, and the Philippines who all took part in this exchange of knowledge, some of which taught how to identify congenital heart disease in a day-old infant with the use of a portable pulse oximeter. It was fascinating and potentially life-saving for the kids who will now have a shot at being mended thanks to an early diagnosis.
So as ever-changing as the future seems to be, we adapt, we act, and we are determined to stay connected and supportive.
Together, we are mending kids.
Over the past several months it has become clear that the health disparities affecting health care access and outcomes in America are also causing COVID to disproportionately affect underserved communities. With this in mind, we are excited to announce that on July 29th Mending Kids will be launching an online bidding campaign called MASKrAID that aims to put masks into the hands of educators and children from vulnerable communities when they are called to return to school.
We reached out to some iconic individuals and influencers and several are coming together. Up for bid are personally designed offerings by Matthew McConaughey, Courteney Cox, Gene Simmons, among others, who are throwing their masks in the ring in support of kids everywhere.
Recipients of the MASKrAID Campaign will include the kids and teachers from after school programs as well as schools serving a high demographic below the poverty rate. Requests can be made here.
Please join us in our MASKrAID Campaign and support teachers and kids who will now become the faces of the frontline. Let’s keep them and all our healthcare heroes safe.
Together we are mending kids.
This Father’s Day we reached out to a few the fathers in our Mending Kids family and asked them to share a little bit about themselves and their children.
This is Dr. Mike Ford, an anesthesiologist who travels with us on our Guatemala ENT mission.
Here’s his story! (Pictured here in Guatemala with a lollipop!)
What are your children’s names and their ages?
“Jonathon (27), Rachel (25) and Joseph (20)”
What is your favorite thing about being a father?
“My favorite thing about being a father has been watching my children grow into kind, caring, wise human beings.”
What surprised you the most about being a dad?
“The most surprising thing about being a father is that you never stop learning. As your child grows, you go from watching Sponge Bob to watching them drive away in your car. It was a shock to my system when they started thinking on their own and looking at me as if I knew nothing!”
What three adjectives would you use to describe yourself?
“The three adjectives I'd use to describe myself are loving, caring and supportive.”
What would surprise your children most to know about you?
“My kids would be surprised to know that I was actually cool in high school and college.”
What should all fathers know about being a parent?
“Fathers should know that there is no one playbook for raising kids. Each kid requires their own set of plays. One size does not fit all. You learn as you go and you will make mistakes, but its okay.”
Why do you volunteer with Mending Kids and what have the experiences meant for you or your kids?
“Volunteering for a medical mission was something I've always wanted to do. I believe in giving back, sharing knowledge, learning from others, inspiring and being inspired. Helping others is fulfilling. It makes me feel like I am an asset to this world when doing something to help another human being, whether it's providing medical care, helping with academics or simply making someone smile. It's the best feeling.”
How do you celebrate Father’s day?
“My family typically celebrates Father's Day by giving me a card with words of appreciation and a gift. In the evening we usually have a big feast prepared by my lovely wife, with help from one of our children. I mostly enjoy spending quality time with my family. Unfortunately, this Father's Day I'll be at work!”
Our next father is Jose L Trejo, he is the father of one of the children who received surgical care at our Hometown Mission in Los Angeles.
Jose is pictured here with his three kids! Here is his story!
“My Name is Jose L Trejo
My children are Josephine Trejo 12 years old
Jorge Trejo 10 years old
And Randy Trejo also 10 years old”
Can You Tell us a little about your children and your experience before finding Mending Kids?
“It hasn't been easy for me and my wife since we had our first child Josie ,she was born with many health issues and conditions , we been in many hospitals since and it's been a roller coaster with her health , her main concern is her kidneys , she was born with a kidney disease and right now she is a kidney transplant recipient. When Jorge and Randy were born for us was like a reward from heaven for not giving up with Josie. We were so happy, but little later my son Jorge , we noticed he was born with a little birthmark on his face very close to his left eye, at the beginning there was nothing visible but little by little it was growing and getting darker and darker.
When Jorge was around 3 years old it was already very noticeable and other kids started to make fun of him and the bully was an everyday thing he was also already attending school and he was getting depressed and did not want to go school. One day he came from school , went straight to the bathroom and he was trying to remove the birthmark with soap ,water and a towel. That’s when I found out , Jorge was not happy and he did not want to have friends and didn’t want to talk to anyone, he was very sad and shy.
I did not know what to do and I called the doctor to see if they could help me to remove it but they told me it was not a health related issue and they didn’t want to help me. After that I tried to see if I could pay a doctor with plastic surgery but it was so expensive and we did not have that kind of money. Right here I lost hope and I was feeling that I was not going to be able to help my son Jorge, I thought about getting a tattoo in the same spot Jorge had his birthmark ,showing him that it wasn't so bad.
One day I came from work and watching the news saw a report about Mending Kids helping kids like my kid and I wrote the phone number and I did call right away not knowing if it was real or maybe the Doctors were not real doctors, it was very hard to believe. But Mending Kids took my call and that's when the miracle started for us.
How has your life and your children's life changed since finding Mending Kids?
“Our lives have changed so much , Jorge now enjoy life like any other kid and he smile every day he is a happy little boy. He is so different , he has lots of friends and that makes me so happy. Mending Kids restored hope in our lives and I am grateful for that every single day of my life.”
What is your favorite thing about being a father ?
“That I have the biggest gift ever , which is to watch my kids everyday growing , laughing and having a happy life I'm a very lucky guy. Sorry I'm a very blessed person that sounds better.”
What surprised you the most about being a dad?
“When I come home from work and my 3 kids run to the door to kiss me. That’s my best reward in life.”
What 3 adjectives would you used to describe yourself?
“I care for other, I share with others and hard worker , try to be excellent Dad”
What would surprise your children most to know about you?
“That I will give my life away, any time for any of them.”
What should all fathers know about being a parent?
“They should know the real meaning about Sacrifice . When you have kids it is not about you anymore, it's about your kids.”
How do you celebrate father's day?
“I celebrate father's day every day of my life , having my kids , watching them grow, having a happy life and getting blessings from God every day that's how I celebrate. GOD BLESS MENDING KIDS”
If we have learned anything from the hundreds of past missions we have deployed overseas, it is how to prepare for the unexpected, adapt on a dime, and pivot forward to accomplish the task at hand. It takes teamwork, resourcefulness, compassion, humility, and looking past obstacles to seek opportunities.
Thanks to the generosity of our partners at Americares and Medshare, along with the Open Hearts Foundation Challenge, and your invaluable support, we have been able to source, purchase and distribute thousands of needed PPE and supplies to the Los Angeles Department of Health Services and many others. (See the list in our previous blog.)
As hard as we have worked to provide a measure of relief for those near to us at home, we have also juggled supporting our kids abroad. Heartbreakingly and frustratingly, one of our babies from Iraq who was visa and medically-approved for heart surgery when the travel ban took place, succumbed to Tetralogy of Fallot. Our hearts are with his family during this unimaginable time. Dozens of other children remain on our waitlist, hanging on to hope that mending will come soon. Sarivelle remains safe in India, awaiting the notice that she will return home to the Democratic Republic of Congo.
We realize that we can’t save the world, but with your continued support, we might possibly save someone's world.
If you can, this #GivingTuesdayNow, please give to help us support the frontlines (or become a monthly donor)?
We are all in this together. Together we are mending kids.
We continue with preparations for our 8th annual Hometown Mission 2020 and we are currently accepting referrals for patients - children (0 - 18) who may be in need of elective procedures that have been denied coverage by insurance.
For more information please call: 1-800-993-5680 or visit www.mendingkids.org/htm
If you shop on Amazon for necessities, go to Smile.Amazon.com and designate us. A percentage of your purchase will be donated to Mending Kids.
The more page “likes” we get, the closer we are to corporate sponsorships. Follow us on Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook and stay up to date on our mission to mend more kids.
Mending Kids secured donations for the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services by reaching out to our medical supply partners, MedShare and Americares, which normally provides Mending Kids with medical supplies for our overseas surgical missions. The donations were delivered to DHS’s PPE center on Skid Row today by executive director, Isabelle Mejias Fox, and board member, Dorothy Lucey.