Save the date - October 7, 2023 at Peter Strauss Ranch - for our 5th annual Hike 2 Mend! Join us as we celebrate the extraordinary commitment of parents who overcome barriers to access surgical care to save their children's lives.
Whether you're an avid hiker, simply love going for a walk, Hike 2 Mend is more than just a hike. It’s an opportunity for us to come together as a community, advocate for equitable healthcare for all, and honor the journey a parent takes to save their child.
By participating, sponsoring, spreading the word, or supporting in any way you can, you'll be making a life-saving difference in a child's future.
Stay tuned for exciting updates as we prepare for this empowering day of hope, love, and mending.
Sarai, a rising senior from De Toledo High School in Southern California, recently traveled with us on a mission to mend hearts in Managua, Nicaragua. She stepped out of her comfort zone and ventured into uncharted territories, discovering a world beyond the confines of textbooks and classrooms. As a non-medical volunteer, Sarai shadowed the interventional cardiology team, led by Dr. Michael Womack from St. Luke's Children's Hospital, as they provided lifesaving procedures to 12 kids. Sarai shares her experience, in her own words:
"Because I had sort of stumbled into this mission through school, I was not sure what to expect going in. I knew that, in the past, missions had been fascinating and beneficial to other students interested in medicine at my school. Because of this, I was excited to have the opportunity to explore medicine in action.
I never would have imagined the variety of jobs a doctor has, especially when working on a volunteer mission. I was surprised by the ethical challenges that doctors face and the humanity that is just as integral as the procedure itself.
As I think back on my experience now that I am home, I realize the equal importance of the procedures and emotional support for the families. Walking into the hospital to pass out coloring books and crayons on the first day, I was overwhelmed and intimidated. I thought that, since I don't speak spanish, hanging out with the kids must not be the best way to help. I shied away from playing with the kids on my own, which I realize now was selfish. I could still smile and color with the kids so they feel seen and supported. As the parents and kids got to know me they would smile and say hi when I walked by. I noticed that I was, in fact, making connections through these awkward smiles, a thumbs up, and bringing them blankets and stuffed bears. In hindsight, if I were to do another mission, I would spend more time exploring this nonverbal communication, which, for most of the trip, I was afraid of.
At first, these procedures were completely foreign to me. Luckily, the other volunteers and doctors kindly translated and explained the steps, challenges, and outcome of each procedure. I realized quickly that the doctors were more than happy to answer any questions I had, I just had to ask. By the end, I knew which aspects of the procedure were difficult and would nervously hold my breath until the doctors finished those parts. I also knew the patients by name and was rooting for each one.
In the future, if I were to come on another mission, I would love to incorporate this new knowledge. I would not let my fear of awkward situations hinder me from supporting the families and making connections with them. Also, I would make sure to ask even more questions. As I write this, I continuously think of information that I wish I had asked about while I was on this mission.”
Sarai reminds us of all of the power we possess to bring smiles, make connections and positively impact the lives of others.
It takes a special kind of courage and determination to leave your home, learn a new language, and train for five long years to become an intensivist; to be handed a freshly repaired heart and navigate the child’s next 24-48 hours of critical care, ensuring that he or she recovers and makes it home to the embrace of their loving family. I’m thrilled to be in Mauritius this week reconnecting with Vivienne, an intensivist from Jakaya Kikwete Cardiac Institute (JKCI) in Dar es Salaam, whose very name embodies her spirit. Vivienne, derived from the Latin word “vivus,” meaning “alive,” represents her commitment to breathing life into the patients she tends to.
Vivienne was trained in Israel by our friends at Save a Child’s Heart (SACH). She returned to Dar es Salaam, fluent in Hebrew, to support Dr. Godwin Sharau, Tanzania’s first cardiac pediatric surgeon, who also graduated from the SACH program. For the past eight years, visits from Mending Kids and other surgical teams have provided a safety net as JKCI increases the complexity of congenital heart disease its staff is able to treat. In those eight years, our partnership has mended 245 kids. The institute now operates independently on about 200 children a year.
Vivienne was recruited by Dr. Salvatore Agati, from the Vatican’s Centro Cardiaco Pediatrico del Mediterraneo, to travel with him on several missions, including a recent trip to Libya. This week, she is here with Dr. Agati and his team at the Cardiac Center in Pamplemousses, Mauritius, to provide guidance and share her knowledge with the local ICU staff as they care for newly mended hearts. It fills us all with immense pride and pleasure to see her in action. Vivienne’s well-earned accomplishments have made her a shining example of what’s possible when different groups with similar goals come together to support one another and build surgical capacity.
To top it all off, Vivienne was recently accepted to pursue a Masters in Healthcare Quality and Safety at Harvard University! We could not be more proud of her. So here’s to all the Viviennes out there. Here’s to strong, intelligent, driven women who set out to make a difference. Here’s to Mauritius, Here’s to the future of sustainable critical surgical care in Africa and the Indian Ocean. Life is now.
Together, we are Mending Kids.
We’d like to take a moment to share an incredible patient success story, made possible by your generosity and support. Romina, our 2023 Imagine Gala Hope Award recipient and former Peruvian patient, embodies the strength, resilience, and hope that Mending Kids champions. Romina's journey began as a teenager when she suffered from catastrophic GI injuries in Lima, Peru. At the time, there were no experts available to provide the specialized treatment she desperately needed.
As soon as Mending Kids became aware of Romina’s case, we recruited Dr. Dean Anselmo from Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. Dr. Anselmo prepared for and executed a small mission to save Romina’s life: mobilizing additional medical expertise and acquiring the specialized medical equipment necessary to restore her future. The surgery was a success, and Romina has used this second chance to embark on a journey to heal others.
Since recovering from surgery, Romina has graduated from college with a degree in psychology. Her commitment to giving back is inspiring. She plans to provide emotional support to others suffering from catastrophic injuries.
During her award acceptance speech, Romina made some moving remarks about her story. In case you were unable to attend, we’d like to share her words with you:
We truly appreciate your commitment to Mending Kids as a monthly donor. It allows us to provide life-changing surgeries to young ladies like Romina. Your support has been instrumental in helping us achieve our milestone of mending 5000 children to date.
Together, we are transforming lives and empowering young individuals to overcome obstacles and fulfill their dreams.
We want to shine the spotlight on a truly extraordinary dad: Michael McDonell. Alongside his wife Sydney, Mike has played a pivotal role in the lives of numerous children and their families, making a profound impact through selfless acts of kindness.
Michael and Sydney were part of a compassionate diaspora of Mending Kids families who opened their homes to children from around the world, hosting them for life-saving surgeries here in the United States. 14 children found a nurturing and loving environment under their care, requiring an enormous commitment and unwavering dedication. Not to mention, they were also raising 4 children of their own!
While on their worldly bucket list of adventures sailing the seas, Michael chatted with us on the phone during a stopover in Turkey. We reached out to feature him for Father's Day, and he was touched to reconnect with our community. We asked him what he had learned from his incredible experiences and if any moments or children stood out to him.
Without hesitation, Michael brought up Domenica, from Ecuador. “She came into our lives seeking a life-changing heart surgery. One evening, enjoying dinner at a restaurant, I held Domenica in my arms, unaware that a mystical encounter was about to take place. Sitting across the table was a friend of a friend, a psychic, whose gaze seemed to fixate on me and Domenica. And then, without any prior context, she uttered ‘You may think Domenica came to you to have her heart healed, but she's actually here to heal your heart.’ Those words resonated into my soul, and I realized the profound truth behind them. The gifts we receive as caregivers are just as transformative as the love and care we offer these courageous children. The healing power of love knows no boundaries, and it forever changes those who embrace it with open arms.”
Michael also fondly mentioned the very first baby they took care of: Putri, a girl orphaned by the tsunami that hit Indonesia. This precious child was hosted while she underwent and recovered from open-heart surgery to have a chance at a healthy life. Putri was returned to Indonesia and later adopted by her forever family.
As we honor Michael for the immeasurable love, support, and care he has shown to children who needed it most, we applaud his extraordinary character as a father and father figure.
We would like to recognize all the incredible fathers, wherever you are in the world, who strive to raise healthy, resilient, and compassionate children.
Wishing you all a joyful Father's Day celebration filled with love and appreciation. Together, we are mending kids.
5-year old Elise, from Cameroon, had her life changed by the power of surgical care and the kindness of strangers when she met Mending Kids. Her story is a testament to what can be achieved when people come together with a common goal: to mend children in need.
Elise's journey began when her father reached out to Mending Kids. She was suffering from a spinal malformation that was untreatable in her country, and her family had exhausted all other options. With the help of our dedicated team and thanks to our kaleidoscope of monthly donors, Elise was approved for surgery at Shriners Children’s Hospital.
Elise's journey was full of obstacles, including being denied a visa twice. However, through our tireless efforts, which included appeals to congressional representatives, and a volunteer flying to her hometown of Yaounde to escort her, Elise was finally able to travel to Los Angeles and then onto Portland for her life-changing surgery at Shriners Medical Center. [READ MORE]
The results have been remarkable. Elise instantly grew two inches taller and is on her way to an impressive four-inch increase! Her mother's testimony speaks to the profound impact this has had on her family's life: "Honestly speaking, this is a dream come true...I remember severally she will always ask me 'mummy when will my back be straight?' My response was never mind one day your back will be straight. And behold, her back is straight."
After 4 months, Elise’s host family, Bob and Kate, flew back with her to reunite with her family in Cameroon. But her journey is far from over. Elise will need to return to the US every 6 to 9 months for the next 6 years for the procedures necessary to ensure straight growth of her spine.
The life-changing impact of surgical care is undeniable, and thanks to our kaleidoscope of monthly donors we’re able to restore futures. A monthly commitment creates the safety net that allows us to provide vital surgeries to children like Elise, who have no other options. Join our community of changemakers, dedicated to transforming lives.
We are thrilled to announce that Mending Kids has reached a major milestone in our 18 year history. We have just mended our 5000th child! We couldn't have achieved this feat without the dedication of our small staff, the selflessness of our volunteer medical teams and non-medical volunteers, and the generous support of our board of directors, donors, and partners around the world.
We also want to take a moment to reflect on the immeasurable impact that our work has had beyond the 5000 children whose lives we have transformed. Over nearly two decades, Mending Kids surgical teams have engaged in transfers of knowledge with medical professionals around the world, building self-sufficiency and supporting the communities that we serve.
Growing up in a shanty town in Paraguay after being abandoned by her own mother, Liz's future looked bleak. Her grandmother, who spoke only Guarani (an indigenous dialect from Paraguay), knew that Liz's health was rapidly deteriorating and that she needed medical attention.
Despite not having the funds for bus fare to get to the hospital in Asuncion, Liz's grandmother set off with her on foot. Along the way, they met kind strangers who helped them get to the hospital just in time for Liz to collapse at the doorstep. She was in heart failure and needed a new heart. Against all odds, a donor emerged and Liz was given a second chance at life. Liz became the first recipient of a heart transplant in a Paraguayan public hospital.
Following successful surgery, Liz didn't have suitable housing for her recovery. Luckily, she spent six months living with her cardiologist, a woman who became her advocate and champion. Eventually, Liz was placed in public housing and continued towards recovery. Eleven years later, Liz is a thriving young woman about to graduate from high school with plans to study medicine and give back.
Liz’s story is a reminder of the transformative impact that love and support can have on a child’s life. Mending Kids played a very small role in her journey to health, when we collaborated with Surgeons of Hope to provide critically needed medical supplies. Still, we want to honor those who helped her become the young woman she is today. We would also like to spotlight all the mothers and mother-figures who champion children to adulthood. We are proud of the impact we’ve made in the lives of so many, but we know there is so much more to be done.
Together, we can continue to make a difference in the lives of children. Together, we can give them the opportunity to wish their parent a Happy Mother’s Day. Together, we can mend 5000 more.
Maybe you missed our Imagine Gala and want to do your part, or maybe you attended and were inspired by all the generosity and mending. Either way, we have an incredible last-minute opportunity that we want to share with you! The Cusumano Family has generously donated a VIP experience with four Clippers courtside seats for the last home game of the season against the Portland Trail Blazers on April 8th, 2023.
This exclusive package is priceless, and we're accepting bids until 5pm on Friday, March 24th. But the best part? Every dollar raised will go towards providing life-changing surgeries to children in need.
Not only will you and three friends be living it up in the ultimate basketball fan's dream seats, but you'll also make a difference in the lives of children who need it most.
Don’t wait – place your bid now, help support our mission at Mending Kids, and enter for a chance to win this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Thank you to everyone who joined us at the Imagine Gala: the Gift of the Future, commemorating the 18th year of Mending Kids. As an organization with the mission of providing life-saving surgical care to children, giving them the opportunity to celebrate more birthdays is a clear indicator of success, hence this year's Gala birthday theme. We were thrilled to see 250 guests come together this past Saturday, dressed to the nines, and ready to party like it was their own birthday!
And boy, did we have a blast honoring Dr. Robert Cho and Shriners Children's Southern California with the Mend Award, and Chris Cortazzo, who received the Love Award. Romina Ublillús, our brave recipient of the Hope Award, was unable to attend in-person, but not to worry, she will be presented with the award when our team heads to Iquitos, Peru to mend children during our annual general surgery and dental mission.
The highlight of the night was none other than rock legend, Gene Simmons, who gave an impromptu speech and generously donated to help us reach our upcoming milestone of mending 5000 children. He also offered up his signed Axe Guitar at the live auction, and threw in front-row seats and VIP backstage passes to a KISS concert and a personal dog walk to the highest bidder. We are still pinching ourselves!
Another heartfelt thank you to every one of you who made this year’s Imagine Gala a success!
The countdown for the event of the season is on! Imagine Gala: The Gift of the Future is less than a month away, and it's going to be the birthday bash of a lifetime. Why? Because this year marks our 18th year of mending. Every year, we raise funds to provide critical surgical care for children in need, giving them futures and birthdays that will last a lifetime.
If you're local to Los Angeles, remember to buy your tickets before March 3rd, as ticket prices will increase. Join us for a night filled with hope, love, and mending.
We're honored to recognize our Peruvian patient, Romina Ublillús, who's traveling all the way from Lima to share her journey with us. We'll be celebrating her strength and resilience as we present her with the Hope Award.
We'll also be presenting the Love Award to Chris Cortazzo, and the Mend Award to Dr. Robert Cho and Shriners Children's Southern California, for their dedication to our cause.
Your attendance and support will mean that more children in Guatemala, Peru, Nicaragua, Tanzania, Armenia, Mauritius, and the United States will have more birthdays in the very near future. You can be a part of their journey.
Together, we're Mending Kids!