For the past month, Genesis Maldonado was not allowed to leave home without a jacket or a cap. No matter the weather, America Maldonado was not risking the possibility that her daughter would catch a cold, or even worse, the flu.
The 12-year-old, who has suffered from enlarged tonsils all her life, qualified for free surgery under a program sponsored by Children’s Hospital of Orange County and a team of local doctors.
But she had to be healthy on the day of the surgery.
“We don’t have health insurance. I knew this was going to be the only opportunity we would ever have to make her life better,” said Maldonado, a stay-at-home mom married to a house painter. “I made sure she didn’t get sick.”
On Saturday, Genesis underwent a 30-minute tonsillectomy. She was one of 29 uninsured Orange County children who received free surgery from a team of ear, nose and throat specialists who volunteered their services.
The program, In Loving Hands, is a collaborative effort among Children’s and St. Joseph hospitals and Entrust Medical Group, which supplied the surgeons.
Saturday’s half-day surgery marathon was the beginning, organizers said, of what will become an annual event, in which specialists volunteer to operate on less fortunate children with chronic ear, nose and throat maladies.
About 100 nurses and medical staff from Children’s Hospital also volunteered, said spokeswoman Denise Almazan. Medications were donated by pharmaceutical companies.
For Genesis, the surgery ended a lifetime of breathing difficulties while she slept. Maldonado said her daughter’s tonsil-induced snoring kept the family awake and there were times when the girl bolted upright in bed, gasping for air -- the effects of obstructive sleep apnea. It is usually cured by removing the tonsils, which Dr. Roberto Barretto said is the most common surgery performed on children
Genesis’ surgery was one of nine tonsillectomies performed Saturday by Barretto. Among the 29 patients, 22 had their tonsils removed; other procedures included the removal of adenoids and the insertion of drain tubes in ears -- surgeries that would cost thousands of dollars.
Planning for the event began in April. Patients were referred by clinics that provide medical services to the county’s neediest families. Organizers said about 60 children were screened for the program, but only 32 were accepted. Patients were uninsured and from limited-income households. Three children didn’t show up Saturday.
The free operations end up being cost-effective in the long run for medical providers and taxpayers, said Dr. Robert del Junco, who led the surgeon contingent from Entrust. Many children with medical problems like tonsillitis often end up in hospital emergency rooms, even when parents cannot afford to pay for treatment, he said.
Saturday’s surgeries were performed as outpatient procedures. Two hours after her surgery, Genesis returned to her home in Anaheim, where she attends Orangeview Junior High School. Barretto said she can return to class in about a week.
“She used to miss a lot of school because of infected or swollen tonsils. Ever since she was a baby, the doctors told us she needed to have her tonsils removed. But when you don’t have insurance and cannot afford to pay for something that will make your child better, it depresses you,” said Maldonado.