Kids First, changing lives for 10 years
By Antonio De Jesús Aguado
For 10 years in a row Kids First has changed the lives of children in need of orthopedic surgery, as well as their families’ lives. This year the group broke the mark of having performed 1,000 surgeries here and Dr. Billy Andrews, who is in charge of the yearly mission to San Miguel, said that he is ready to keep working in this magical town 10 more years.
This year, the team made up of 32 surgeons, nurses and anesthesiologists worked at the General Hospital Felipe G. Dobarganes, performing surgeries on the hands, feet, arms, knees and hips of children under 18 who came to San Miguel from across the state. The rewards for the team are the smiles and the demonstrations of affection that yearly they receive from the children they help and their families.
“There are two magic numbers this year,” said Doctor Roberto Maxwell, who was responsible for bringing the team to the city: “The first one is that in 2013 they completed 1,000 surgeries and secondly, this is also the tenth year of the organization in San Miguel.” Maxwell commented that the surgeons have brought stories of success to the state because their work affects not just the children’s lives but their families also. According to Maxwell, there are children that could not walk and had to be carried by a member of the family; they could not even go to school or
play with other children, and after the surgery they were able to perform all these activities. Following the surgery, the family member who took care of the patient is released from that burden and can do other things, including finding regular employment.
Maxwell said that the first year Kids First came to San Miguel, in 2004, organizing surgeries was more complicated than now.There were a lot of processes that begin with local, state and federal authorities. One process was with COFEPRIS (Federal Commission for the Protection of Sanitary Risks). After 10 years they have gained experience and now they know the activities that every institution has to complete to guarantee the surgeries. For example, said Maxwell, now we know that local administration provides transportation for the team from and to the airport, and they also transport the surgical equipment from the border to San Miguel and back. That material is handed over to Kids First by hospitals in the United States.
This year the team arrived in San Miguel on Saturday, May 17 and the following day they started screening more than 300 children at the municipal DIF (Department for Integral Family Development) to select candidates for pediatric surgery. Since then volunteers started arriving to help the team. Interpreters and even a couple from Tamaulipas who bring teaching materials to entertain the waiting children.
Ten years of experience with Kids First has also helped the general hospital to organize better. According to Maxwell, people coming for surgery used to bring two or three children in a taxi, to save money, but they did not consider that after the surgery the children would be wearing casts and it would be uncomfortable to travel back in a small space. Also there were people who used to come with no money and the Social Work Department of the General Hospital along with the local DIF had to solve those problems. The vehicles from other DIF offices around the state that transported children sometimes did not come back to pick them up or broke down en route. That does not happen anymore.
Dr. Jorge Vidargas, director of the hospital, said that the organization and coordination with Kids First is now the best it has been, because the regular hospital activities are not interrupted and there are operating rooms available for emergencies. “The hospital works just as it does every day,” he commented.
Doctors share their experience in San Miguel
Dr. Billy Andrews told Atención
that this year the team was made up of 32 people and yearly it has been growing. “The teams come from 15 different states in the United States,” he said.
Andrews said that he feels happy working in San Miguel because they like the sanmiguelenses, who are very friendly, and he remarked that they feel safe. “México is like any other country” he said, referring to the security in town.
The doctor explained that in 2013 they performed 100 surgeries and he expected to perform at least 120 this year would be possible because many children came for screening and this year there were more volunteers.
The doctors that come to San Miguel do so during their vacation time, and although they only see each other once a year the work goes smoothly because most of them have been on the team since the beginning, and their only goal is making the children’s lives easier with one or multiple surgeries.
For Andrews all the surgeries they have performed in Guanajuato are stories of success because yearly they receive visits from those who have had a surgery before. He also receives emails, letters and hugs from the benefited children, “and that is the best payment for us,” he said.
Stephanie Mayer is the newest member of the team, and this was her first year in San Miguel. She commented that on May 17 they performed more than five surgeries a day. She got involved in this mission, she said, because there are too many children that need help and without this service they might not be able to access medical care. She expects to keep working with the organization for many years and perform more surgeries every year. She expressed her happiness at being in this city because of the people’s hospitality.
History and experience
Doctors Billy Andrews and Gregory Menzio had for several years worked with an organization called Healing the Children, performing surgeries in countries such as Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, Brazil and Colombia. Years later, when they had got their own surgical equipment, they decided to start their own organization, and Kids First emerged. At the beginning they worked in the Dominican Republic, but due to the social conditions and insecurity of the country they wanted to move the mission to another country. Dr. Andrews traveled to San Miguel and met Lucha Maxwell, then president of the Centro de Crecimiento, and Roberto Maxwell, among other sanmiguelenses, and they convinced him to move the mission to San Miguel. He visited the city four more years before making the decision.
The city immediately offered support with translations, transportation, food, lodging and more. For that reason they decided to come to San Miguel every year beginning in 2004. Also, because the city is closer to the US border than South America, transportation costs for the surgical materials are lower.
Among the children who benefited this year is Natalia, a two-year-old girl who was born with six toes on each foot and was scheduled for surgery. Her condition made it difficult to wear shoes. Édgar Gilberto Montes came from México City because he had a shortened tendon in his left leg and could not walk well and also suffered back pain.