Los angeles Times Column: The medical supplies were sitting in storage. Then this healthcare team sent them to the front lines
By STEVE LOPEZ COLUMNIST, THE LOS ANGELES TIMES
APRIL 15, 2020, 3 AM
Good people doing good things in troubled times. It’s a story that doesn’t get old, and here’s one more chapter.
In ordinary times, a Glendale-based nonprofit called Mending Kids sends volunteer medical teams around the world to perform pediatric surgery on children in need. But the coronavirus crisis forced a pause for a charity that has flown to the rescue in more than a dozen countries over the last 15 years and served more than 4,000 kids.
“All of a sudden our surgical missions were grounded,” said Mending Kids’ executive director, Isabelle Fox. “Our doctors still wanted to travel, but the risk to them was that they’d be quarantined when they got back home, and their practices would take serious hits.”
As a result, stockpiled medical equipment intended for foreign service was sitting unused while stories about supply shortages at U.S. clinics and hospitals abounded. Mending Kids had hundreds of masks, along with gowns, face shields and oxygen supply equipment.
“My first instinct was — how can we have the most impact with what we have, here at home?” said Fox.
Fox first checked with the doctors, nurses and other medical staff who volunteer with Mending Kids and provided equipment to those who needed it at their regular workplaces. Fox also wanted to get equipment to anyone doing social and medical outreach for L.A. County’s thousands of homeless people.
To that end, Fox called a friend, and before long she was connected to Sieglinde von Deffner, an L.A. County coordinator of skid row services.
Von Deffner, a social worker, is one of the many unsung heroes who for years has worked the streets here in the homeless capital of the United States. I once wrote about a woman living in her car at a hospital where she was getting dialysis treatment, and someone asked me, “Have you called Sieglinde?” I hadn’t but after I did, the dialysis patient got housed.
When Fox caught up with her in mid-March, Von Deffner and the county’s Housing for Health team had been temporarily redeployed from skid row to Dockweiler State Beach in Playa del Rey, where teams were setting up isolation and quarantine units for COVID-19 patients and those exposed to the disease. Some of the few dozen people in the temporary housing were homeless, some had been in shelters, some were living in overcrowded conditions. The point was to get them proper medical treatment and limit the spread of the virus.
At that point, the workers already had protective equipment, Von Deffner said, but she knew that N95 masks and other supplies could be hard to come by, So she asked the L.A. County Health Services Department’s medical director on the Dockweiler team, Dr. Heidi Behforouz, if they could use a donation from Mending Kids.
“She said, ‘Heck yeah, we’ll take it,’” said Von Deffner.
“The conditions were really challenging because of the wind at Dockweiler,” said Von Deffner, something that made contact with sick clients seem all the riskier. She said she maintained a six-foot distance between herself and the others, but medical staffers needed to be in close contact with the clients they were caring for.
Back at Mending Kids headquarters, Fox, volunteer Bob Rubaszewski and others began loading supplies into vehicles. One of the organization’s doctors — ear, nose and throat specialist Dr. Ayal Willner — was there for a board meeting and helped sift through the supplies to determine what might be most useful to a quarantine camp.
“I said let’s go,” Willner told me, and he drove one of the vehicles to Dockweiler, where he helped unload the equipment.
Willner, a board member at Mending Kids, has traveled to far-off places to perform surgery and help train foreign medical teams, so there’s a sustainable service in place. He is scheduled to travel to Tanzania in June, but fears that mission will be postponed. He also works on Mending Kids’ L.A. mission, which is to perform surgeries on local children who don’t have access to healthcare and are bullied for scars or physical maladies.
“I’m thankful to have the opportunity to go to Tanzania and Guatemala and help people there and to train their physicians, and also to help here with our hometown mission,” Willner said. “It’s an honor.”
The delivered equipment was put to good use, Von Deffner said, and the Dockweiler camp served its purpose until the county was able to move clients there and the medical team to a hotel in Bell Gardens. But the relationship between the county and Mending Kids didn’t end there.
The usual medical supply chain has been disrupted worldwide during the pandemic, and it’s now a case of “grab what you can wherever you can get it.” Mending Kids, because of its global connections, has been able to scramble, tap sources and get supplies. And Fox has kept in touch with Von Deffner.
“We did more fundraising through our donors,” Fox said, “and were able to buy masks and face shields and gloves, and I called Sieglinde back and said, ‘Is this gonna make a difference?’ She said absolutely, so last Friday I loaded a couple hundred face shields and N95 masks ... and we had a portable ventilator we use for kids who are having open heart surgery.”
Fox delivered most of the equipment to Von Deffner but took the ventilator to MLK Hospital.
“I know everybody is crazy for ventilators right now,” she said. “They had 11 ventilators on hand and 10 were in use with six more on order. And today, I coordinated for another ventilator to be sent to them.”
Von Deffner said the bulk of the latest donation from Mending Kids is now in use at the hotel that’s serving as an isolation and quarantine center. The rest is being used by the public and nonprofit medical teams serving skid row, where Von Deffner is working again. And she said Fox has told her she’ll be shipping more supplies, including a large stash of masks, as soon as she gets her hands on them.
We’ll have lots of dark and painful memories when, down the road, we look back on this prolonged test of our resolve. We’ll think about the loss of so many lives, the blow to so many businesses and the economic hardship suffered by millions.
But we’ll also remember this as a time when a day did not go by without a story about somebody doing something good for somebody else.
We hope that you and your families are healthy. Please wash your hands, don’t touch your face and stay home if you can. It is our best course of action against this virus.
For those who can't, whether because they are working on the front lines or because they have no home, we have been doing what we can to provide a measure of hope and assistance.
Many of our grounded - destined for overseas - medical supplies were donated to the Department of Human Services Dockweiler containment camp for the homeless population battling COVID-19 last month. We have been coordinating the acquisition of personal protection equipment (PPE) and we are currently distributing it to our family of Mending Kids clinicians and to groups supporting some of the most underserved members of our greater Los Angeles community. On Friday, we delivered our portable ventilator to Martin Luther King Community Hospital to help support their life-saving efforts. They currently have only 11 ventilators (6 more are on order) and our donation is expected to be crucial in their efforts to treat this vulnerable community.
We acknowledge that one ventilator is a modest donation and that Mending Kids is not in a position to help everyone in the world who is battling this virus, but this ventilator may mean the world to the patients and their families who benefit from its use.
As the weeks of uncertainty and social distancing unfold and we adapt to this new reality, life (saving) goes on. Please stay safe and healthy and please let us know how you are doing. We are all in this together.
Together, we are mending kids.
We were supposed to be returning from Iquitos, Peru this week but like most everyone else in the world, everything came to a screeching new reality. Our hearts go out to the patients we were unable to help along with the nearly half-million people in this Amazon region who reside in the largest city in the world without access by road. When we checked a few days ago, there were 65 patients battling the virus and they were being treated at the Hospital Regional Loreto where we would have been operating. There are only 5 ventilators to support this population. Please keep them in your thoughts and prayers.
Thankfully all our Individual International patients are doing well. However, they are stuck with us here a little while longer or riding out the pandemic halfway across the world. We are working to get them home as soon as it is safe and possible to do so.
Individual Care Patients
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: Adrienne Johnson
Cell: (626) 673-4424
Mending Kids, a Non-profit Organization Delivers in Demand Medical Supplies for Isolated Homeless COVID-19 Patients
Glendale, Calif., March 23, 2020-As widespread shortages of medical supplies rapidly increase during the global coronavirus pandemic, Mending Kids, a non-profit organization, donated their own stock of supplies to the Department of Human Services stationed at Dockweiler State Beach RV Park. Located at 12001 Playa Del Ray, Dockweiler RV Park is one of many locations in Los Angeles County being temporarily used as a COVID-19 isolation and quarantine containment zone to shelter ill homeless individuals in need of a place to self-isolate.
Like many non-profit organizations and local businesses, Mending Kids, which provides surgical care to underserved children in the US and internationally, has taken a proactive approach in response to the coronavirus outbreak. To minimize the spread and potential exposure of the virus to employees, patients, and the public, and in accordance with California’s “stay-at-home” order, the organization has temporarily halted its Overseas Surgical Missions. The Hometown Mission, one of Mending Kids core programs, will continue to help children in need of outpatient elective surgeries when it is safe to do so.
Without hesitation, during this critical time of need, collaboration, and community, Isabelle Fox, Mending Kids Executive Director, along with Dr. Ayal Willner, ENT surgeon and Mending Kids board member, collected supplies from the non-profit’s inventory which included Tylenol, wound care, nasal cannulas, IV fluids, gloves, glucose analyzers, and stethoscopes among other necessities. These donations will go toward supplementing much needed medical resources which will be used for homeless patients quarantined at Dockweiler State Beach RV Park.
Mending Kids urges individuals or businesses with extra masks or other personal protective equipment (PPE), to reach out to Hello@mendingkids.org so these resources can get to those in need.
“There is no point in hoarding or watching our medical products expire. We need to do our part as an organization to support our brave local medical community and clinics battling this pandemic on the frontlines.”-Isabelle Fox, Executive Director of Mending Kids
For more information about Mending Kids or to refer a patient to the Hometown Mission program please visit: www.mendingkids.org
For the past 15 years, Mending Kids has relied on the support of volunteer doctors, nurses, and medical personnel. Now more than ever, these doctors, nurses, and medical personnel who are currently working on the frontlines battling the COVID-19 pandemic need our support. They are in dire need of personal protective equipment (PPE) to keep them safe and free of the spread of this virus. Mending Kids is currently working on coordinating available supplies. If you have extra masks or PPE, please reach out to us at Hello@Mendingkids.org. If you would like to help us purchase needed personal protection equipment for our healthcare heroes, donate online or Venmo @MendingKids.
During these difficult times, we are donating medical supplies to those in need.
This past weekend, gloves, masks, disinfectants, Tylenol, among other things, headed to 2 clinics and a mobile unit that are operating out of Downtown and East L.A. monitoring COVID-19 and taking care of adults and children, the underserved and the homeless population. Dr. Dina Brent, a pediatrician who donates her services to support our Hometown Mission patients, came by to pick them up. She is one of our heroes on the frontlines.
Additionally, Mending Kids staff and doctors delivered carloads of Tylenol, wound care, hygiene packs, nasal cannulas, glucose analyzers, stethoscopes and blankets to Dockweiler State Beach where the COVID-19 containment camp is stationed, equipped to house the sick homeless individuals who need to be isolated.
Infinity Films + A.J. Adelman & Associates
integrated marketing research + communications
Mending Kids International
PR Stats as of
02-12-2020 to 03-20-2020
Two Dogs Generate Over $100,000 For Critical Surgical Care For Children
Link to Press Release/Pr Newswire:
Total Pick-Ups/Mentions – TV, Newspapers, Websites, Blogs: 550 +
Total Potential Audience: 81 Million +
Yahoo! News: https://news.yahoo.com/two-dogs-generate-over-100-041300018.html
Boston Chronicle: https://bostonchron.com/manews/two-dogs-generate-over-100000-for-critical-surgical-care-for-children-bostonchron-10050219
Star Tribune: http://markets.financialcontent.com/startribune/news/read/39507831/
Pittsburgh Post Gazette: http://markets.post-gazette.com/postgazette/news/read/39507831/
A.J. Adelman & Associates AJ Adelman
1000 S. Grand Ave., Suite 620 Adrienne Johnson
Los Angeles, CA 90015
A.J. Adelman – 310.650.0220
Ten high school students from MUSE School joined us in Guatemala this week, playing several vital roles in our mission: comforting patients through recovery, participating in outreach activities, assisting with our screening clinic, documenting, and more. Their open hearts and exceptional energies allowed us to perform three more unexpected surgeries -- totaling our patient count to 101 children in just five days. This is the fourth year MUSE has joined forces with us on our ENT mission to Guatemala, continuing to make a massive difference in the lives of many underserved children and their families. Way to go, MUSE! ❤️