Last Saturday 47 surgical and medical volunteers convened at the Memorial Outpatient Surgical Center Long Beach to provide free surgeries to 15 children in one day. After a year of playing whack-a-mole setting missions, rescheduling missions, riding the pandemic rollercoaster, remote work, travel moratoriums, treating individual cases, delivering PPE, hosting symposia, it was no small feat to finally have our 8th Hometown mission date that we could all work toward. And seeing the kids arrive, from all over Southern California (and one from Arizona,) talking to them about the challenges and obstacles they overcame for them to get here. Their families' resilience. Their faith. It all just reminded us and reinforced why we do our Hike 2 Mend every fall. And then, after a long day, waving goodbye to them in the end, knowing that we had restored their self-esteem, was something we could all sigh with relief for. We have between 3 and 4 million kids in this state that are underinsured or uninsured and we are a small nonprofit, so the idea that Mending Kids could someday be a go-to to and help connect a greater fraction of these kids in need through a referral network is a big dream. One that we will have to be strategic and resilient about, building it, managing it, one mission and one child at a time, patiently and resolutely. The big picture is about shining a light on the health disparity that surrounds us; visibly and invisibly and the social injustice that is inextricably enmeshed alongside it. Health frees up resources and energy to focus on learning and for the parent to focus on employment, affording them all the time to elevate their standards of living and reset them on a course to dream of better things. So we are left with two options: We can go to sleep at night beating ourselves up for not mending more kids (several kids were leftover for the next mission) or we can go to sleep at night with some measure of relief knowing that we may not have saved the world, but last Saturday, we helped mend 15 kids’ worlds and for now, that’s going to have to be okay. We will forge ahead, methodically and diligently, to the next Hometown Mission - Mend US and make it happen soon for our next wave of patients. They shouldn't have to wait so long to enjoy their childhoods.
Together, we are Mending Kids.
This past Saturday, our Mending Kids Family and the Memorial Care Outpatient Surgical Center came together to provide 15 patients ranging from 2 years to 21 years old with long awaited surgical care. 47 medical personnel including surgeons, doctors, and nurses gave up their Saturday to serve children in need. Some of whom came from as far away as Phoenix, AZ and Fresno, CA for their procedures.
None of this mending would have been possible were it not for your support and with enormous appreciation for Memorial Care Surgical Center, Open Hearts Foundation, The Charitable Foundation, Lakers Youth Foundation, Bear Givers, Rotary Club of Santa Monica, Rotary Club of South Pasadena, Thrivent, La Canada Juniors Women's League and to Panini Kabob and Grill who generously fed our heroes.
Let's continue to mend more hometown kids, and give them the life they truly deserve; free from bullying, with their self-esteem restored.
Together, we are Mending Kids.
Today and everyday we celebrate moms and guardians who work so hard to make sure that their children are healthy and receive the critical surgical care they need to flourish and grow.
We honor their resilience, their love, and their strength.
Happy Mother’s Day from all of us at Mending Kids.
Thank you to our wonderful supporters and friends. Without you, none of what we do is possible. Thank you for making our first virtual gala a great one. Your generosity has already made a difference in children's lives.
We cannot thank you enough.
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.