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Kids First Charity Celebrates Its Fifteenth Year Bringing Doctors to San Miguel

Dr. Billy Andrews

Dr. Jorge Vidargas

By Jesus Aguado

In 2004, the US charity Kids First needed a safer place to bring its orthopedic surgery missions for needy children. For over a decade, it had been recruiting American doctors, nurses, and surgeons to give free medical attention to needy children in South and Central America, often with unconditional support by the countries’ governments. Unfortunately, those countries had become too dangerous to travel to and work in, even for the organization’s short-term visits.

Inspiration came when Kids First organizer Billy Andrews took a trip to San Miguel de Allende, where he met Lucha Maxwell and her son, Dr Roberto Maxwell. Lucha, who has since passed away, was the founder of the Centro de Crecimiento, now the Centro de Rehabilitación Integral de San Miguel de Allende, while her son Roberto is a well-known doctor in town who has spearheaded many charitable medical initiatives. Dr Roberto helped Kids First organize its first medical treatment trip to San Miguel, and since then, it’s never stopped.

Now, 15 years after that important meeting, Kids First is celebrating its San Miguel quinceaños, a decade and a half of getting the municipality’s children badly needed orthopedic treatment.

Kids First has brought many benefits to San Miguel children since 2004, including importing medications and high-quality medical instruments that meet with the standards established by México’s Comisión Nacional para la Prevención de Riesgos Sanitarios (National Commission for the Prevention of Health Risks). Every year, the organization brings medical professionals to San Miguel for a Jornada Médica (Medical Workday), where they perform treatments and surgeries on needy children with orthopedic malformations and other problems. The organization also procures from local philanthropists and businesses the needed transportation, room, and board for the surgeons, anesthesiologists, and nurses who volunteer.

When Andrews and Kids First cofounder Gregory Menzio arrived in San Miguel to begin their medical mission, the city immediately offered help with translation, transportation, lodging, food, and more. This support, as well as the shorter distance between San Miguel and the organization’s headquarters in Tennessee, are big reasons why Kids First has been able to stay in San Miguel so long. In addition, shipping surgical equipment and medications is also less onerous due to the reduced distance, and the local government’s Dirección de Vinculación con Organizaciones Civiles (NGOs Relations Office) helps with the paperwork for these shipments.

This year, the Jornada Médica has collected US$750,000 in donations to fund the costs of the medical attention the personnel will provide. Nevertheless, each doctor, nurse, anesthesiologist who volunteers for the Work Day will also provide medical equipment, contribute toward the purchase of medications, and pay all their own travel expenses.

Ready, without risks, in the operating rooms

The patients come from around the state and the Bajío region. Once they have passed the medical prerequisites, their surgeries will be scheduled for May 20 through May 23 at San Miguel’s General Hospital. Two of the hospital’s operating rooms have been reserved on those days from 4am to noon.

Asked if this blocking off of two operating rooms could be problematic in the event of a large-scale emergency creating an overload of admissions to the hospital, Director Dr Jorge Vidargas said that prior to the arrival of the Kids First team, his team runs simulations of possible public emergency scenarios. Also, he added, an average of 10 surgeries are scheduled per day at the hospital, and those are done at 10pm.

“There is a series of plans in place at the Hospital Seguro, in the event of a systemic failure of the other operating rooms or a massive number of patients arriving due to shootings or a fire. In that event—which has never happened and hopefully never will—the Work Day program is stopped and emergency procedures take effect. There is always an obstetric surgeon on duty.”

In the past 14 years, the Work Day has performed 1,500 surgeries on children from San Miguel and cities like Irapuato, Celaya, Dolores, and San José Iturbide. Patients have come from cities as far away as Michoacán, San Luis Potosí, and Querétaro. During each session, 100 to 120 surgeries are performed on more than 60 children, some receiving multiple operations. Some children must return the following year for follow-up surgery.

On a break

In the General Hospital’s waiting room, Andrews said he was very happy working in San Miguel. People here are very friendly, and he and his team feel safe, he added. “México is like any other country.”

The US medical personnel who come for the Work Day do so during their vacation time. The majority of them have worked with Kids First since Andrews and Menzio created it in 1991, after working together for another similar organization in Spokane, Washington, Healing the Children.

Although they see each other only once a year, the volunteers told us that what makes the intense work easier is that most of them have worked together from the start and that all the participants’ primary objective is taking care of the patients.

For Andrews, all the children he works with are success stories. Every year, he receives letters, email, and even visits from patients who have recovered thanks to a surgery Kids First performed. He expects to do 10 more years of these San Miguel visits and does not believe he will need to move the mission to another country.

Surgeon Stephanie Mayer told Atención that extensive preparations are needed to perform 15 to 20 surgeries per day. She says she joined the mission because it’s a way for children with few resources to get necessary surgeries, since access to health care is very complicated here. She, too, expects to continue working with the organization for many years, and also hopes to increase her number of surgeries performed annually. The hospitality of San Miguel residents has been delightful, she said.

Surgeon Chris Stuz said that the General Hospital is very supportive and that it’s gratifying to do work he loves. The medical team is incredible, he added, and it continues to grow.

“San Miguel is a friendly city with exceptional people,” he said. “I hope they continue to receive us this way every year.”

 

BOX

The Kids First team will arrive on May 19 to do diagnostic work and approve children for surgery. If someone you know needs orthopedic medical attention, advise them to come to Desarrollo Integral Para la Familia (Comprehensive Family Development), known as DIF, on the corner of San Antonio Abad and Insurgentes, to obtain a voucher. They can also call 152 0910. Parents can also bring their children to Hospital General Felipe G. Dobarganes on May 19 from 7am to 6pm for examination.

 

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