A non-profit organization is offering free plastic surgery for kids in need.
Rosa Martinez is a typical little girl with big dreams but those dreams became nightmares when a birth defect, a tumor under her chin, got bigger as she got older.
Her father, Gustavo Martinez, says it began to become a problem, "after she started noticing kids asking her what was, what was under her chin and she started ducking her head.”
Rosa became sad and withdrawn. Her parents were heartsick because they couldn’t afford surgery to remove the tumor.
Gustavo says, "It was painful because you can't -- there's really nothing you could do.”
Then, the family heard about Fresh Start, a program offering free plastic and reconstructive surgery to kids with physical disfigurements.
Fresh Start CEO Shari Brasher says, "It could be anything from, you know, a funny mole on a person’s face, webbed fingers and toes to cleft lips and palates.”
Every seventh weekend, doctors, nurses and anesthesiologists donate their time, providing free care to up to 700 kids a year.
Brasher says, "If these families had to pay, it is well over $1 million in a one year period.”
The surgeries take place in San Diego but anyone in the U.S. can apply online to see if they qualify. Click here to visit the Web site.
Brasher says, "You could just be a middle income family who might have, you know, one or two children and you have expenses and a procedure might cost 70, $80,000 and it would just be prohibitive.”
Rosa had surgery, she no longer ducks her head and she has one word for the doctors who gave her a fresh start.
"Thanks," she says.
Some financial assistance is available to families for travel, lodging and meals. In addition to Fresh Start's Web site you can also contact the organization toll-free by phone. The number is 888-551-1003. Other moneys for the program come from fundraising, celebrity golf tournaments and corporate sponsorships.
Fast Facts:One out of every 500 babies is born with some type of craniofacial deformity.
Children who experience disfigurement through birth or accident often face ridicule and teasing from peers and are sometimes socially isolated.
Many problems are correctable with surgery. However, the procedures can be costly and aren’t always covered by insurance.
An organization called fresh start surgical gifts, based in San Diego, aims to help many children who need treatment for cosmetic disfigurements. Doctors, nurses, and other health care providers donate their time and services to give these children a “fresh start” at life.
Craniofacial and Other Disfiguring Disorders
According to the World Craniofacial Foundation, about one out of every 500 babies is born with some type of craniofacial deformity. The term encompasses many different kinds of problems. Cleft palate is a condition in which the two sections of the upper roof of the mouth fail to come together (fuse), leaving an opening in the roof of the mouth. The condition may or may not be combined with a cleft lip, or separation of the two sides of the lip (in some cases, the separation may extend into the upper gum and bone that forms the upper jaw). In craniosynostosis, the individual bones that eventually become a solid skull fuse too soon, leaving little room for the growing brain. Hemifacial microsomnia is a condition in which the lower half of one side of the face doesn’t grow as fast as the other half. Children born with this syndrome may have only a partially formed ear on the affected side or no external ear.
Some children have various types of vascular birthmarks. A hemangioma is a non-malignant tumor formed by the fast growth of collection of cells. They can appear as a slightly raised reddish bump that can grow for up to 18 months. Most eventually shrink on their own, but that process can take 3 to 10 years. Port wine stains are patches of discoloration ranging from pale pink to dark purple. They are present at birth and may thicken with age. A nevus is a mole. These pigmented spots are small and very common. However, some children have very large nevi which can cover a significant portion of their body.
Another condition that can occur in children is webbing of the fingers and/or toes (called syndactyly). Usually, the skin separating the fingers or toes has not completely separated, causing the affected digits to remain connected. The webbing may only go up to the first joint or may extend to ends of the affected fingers or toes. In rare cases, bones, nerves, blood vessels and tendons may also be fused.
Children who experience disfigurement through birth or an accident often face ridicule and teasing from peers and are sometimes socially isolated. Surgery to correct the deformities can cost thousands of dollars, a price that is often unaffordable by many families. Insurance companies often don’t cover the costs because many of the procedures are considered cosmetic procedures. Sometimes state or federal programs cover some of the expenses, but not all families qualify for the programs.
Some physicians offer services to help these children at no-cost or reduced charge. One group is called Fresh Start Surgical Gifts. They are located in San Diego, CA. Six to eight times a year, doctors hold a “surgery weekend.” Children accepted into the program are offered a variety of services at no cost, ranging from surgery, dental care (including braces, bridges and crown work) and/or speech therapy services. Since families often come from out-of-town, volunteers work to arrange transportation, lodging and meals. Fresh Start can even provide some financial assistance to families who are unable to afford the cost of travel, lodging and food.
In a typical weekend, Fresh Start doctors, nurses and therapists will see about 60 children. The doctors usually perform about 10 to 13 major surgeries, 2 to 3 minor surgeries, 20 to 25 dental procedures, 8 to 10 laser surgeries, 8 to 10 speech therapy sessions and 15 to 20 ongoing evaluations.
Shari Brasher, Fresh Start CEO, estimates the organization helps about 600 to 700 children a year. Doctors, nurses and other staff members all volunteer their time to the program. The organization raises money to pay for use of the surgery center and medical equipment and supplies. Brasher says the biggest pay-off for the doctors and staff is the smiles on the faces of the children, many of whom feel their lives have been completely changed.
Fresh Start was founded in 1991 by Dennis Nigro, M.D. Since then, the organization has provided about $11 million in free reconstructive surgery and other services. The program is open to children 18 and under, but in rare cases, doctors may offer their services to older people. The clinic is not a walk-in service. Families must apply to the program and surgeries are planned months in advance.
Web ResourcesAboutFace USA Web site
For general information on craniofacial problems:
Children’s Craniofacial Association Web site
TheSmileTrain Web site.
World Craniofacial Foundation Web site
For information about vascular birthmarks:
Vascular Birthmarks Foundation Web site