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Glendale-based pediatric surgery nonprofit recruiting patients ‘at home’

Glendale-based pediatric surgery nonprofit recruiting patients ‘at home’
Dr. Andre Panossian, here with a young patient, is one of the surgeons volunteering to perform outpatient procedures on young people from Southern California and Arizona in July. (Courtesy of Mending Kids)

For 30 years, pediatric surgery nonprofit Mending Kids has been sending doctors all over the developing world to perform surgeries on young people who likely wouldn’t receive them otherwise.

More recently, it’s also been helping kids “at home,” said Isabelle Fox, executive director of the Glendale-based organization.

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On July 27, Mending Kids will hold its seventh annual Hometown Mission, which will see more than 20 young patients from Southern California and Arizona receive free outpatient surgeries.

“I can’t pull a statistic out of my hat, but I think [the local need] is a lot bigger than we think it is,” Fox said. “Healthcare is such a question mark for so many.”

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Currently, Mending Kids is recruiting patients 21 years old and younger who are in need of a surgery that doesn’t require overnight hospitalization — including orthopedics, plastic surgery, urology, as well as eye, general and ENT surgeries — but cannot afford the procedures because of insurance coverage, documentation status or a family’s loss of income, Fox said.

Within two days of announcing the mission earlier this month, the organization received 30 phone calls and is in the process of screening potential patients, Fox said.

With the need exceeding the 20 or so patient slots available for the one-day mission, Fox said the organization is already in talks with its mission partner, the Specialty Surgery Center of Beverly Hills, to extend the program to be year-round.

That way, those who can’t be seen in July can schedule procedures in the coming months, rather than a year or even further down the line.

“We do have a lot of donors that care about our United States program,” Fox said. “I think if they knew it could be [a] consistent help, we could potentially raise the money to be able to do it.”

Because the surgeries the mission offers are not treating life-threatening illnesses, some insurance companies may not cover them or may require the patient to pay a high deductible. But the suffering caused by even cosmetic abnormalities can be significant, Fox said.

By the age of 6, Jorge Trejo stopped wanting to socialize with other children who bullied him because of a large birthmark on his face, according to his father, Jose. With their insurance unwilling to cover the procedure, “me and my wife were almost giving up,” Jose Trejo said.

When the Trejos saw a commercial in 2015 for Mending Kids on a Spanish-language TV channel, they were skeptical but called anyway. Within about a day, the organization said it could help.

It took three years and three surgeries, but in 2017 the birthmark was finally removed, Jose Trejo said.

“Now he’s a totally different boy,” Jose Trejo said of his son, who is turning 10 this year. “I see him happy and making friends.”

The Hometown Mission also gives doctors and other healthcare professionals who might not be able to go on an international mission an opportunity to volunteer, Fox said. A team of about six surgeons, in addition to nurses and anesthesiologists, will be working for free during the upcoming mission.

Those who want to refer a child for the upcoming mission can call (800) 993-5680 or email hometown@mendingkids.org.

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