Putting Kids on the Mend

Glenn Dabatos, President of the MKI Board of Directors, comforts Zinnah, a young patient in Liberia, as he undergoes repair of a severe club foot. (Photo courtesy of Mending Kids International)

For the last seven years, Mending Kids International (MKI) has provided life-changing surgeries to sick children around the world by flying them to American hospitals, bringing them to regional health centers in India, Israel and the Philippines, and through medical missions that bring surgical teams directly to remote areas.

MKI, based in Burbank, California, with support from apl.de. ap of the popular band Black Eyed Peas and his apl.de. ap Foundation, recently launched its “Campaign for the Filipino Children” with a Fashion Gala in Los Angeles. The ongoing Philippine drive will support sick children at the Philippines Heart Center and those in need of ophthalmological surgery in Manila.

Children benefit from life-saving advancements in heart surgery and neurosurgery and from life-changing operations, such as those involving the spine, rectal malformations and cranial facial deformities. At the core of MKI’s work in the United States are partnerships with UCLA Medical Center, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, Cedars-Sinai and Shriners Hospital.

While on July 20, MKI accomplished its first U. S. mission to help Americans at Cedars-Sinai, the vast majority of the 1,300 children the charity has served since its founding in 2006 live in any of 40 developing countries, including China.

The Philippines is second only to Guatemala in receiving the greatest assistance. All of the children are important to Glenn Dabatos, president of Mending Kids board, but the organization’s work with Filipino children has a personal connection. He joined MKI as its treasurer in 2007 after his wife’s nephew Jacob Saldana underwent multiple heart surgeries through MKI’s U. S. Surgical Program. Glenn says seven years later, Jacob, age eight, is doing well in Manila. The 49-year-old was born in Cebu City and studied physical therapy at the University of Santo Tomas.

As the Chief Operating Officer of Interstate Rehab in Glendale, California, Glenn has the business acumen and personal commitment to lead MKI through the current period of hyper-growth in services and size. “The decision was very simple,” he said. “MKI is going through a lot of growth as it expands its U. S. Surgical Program and added International Surgeries and Medical Missions. I am very passionate about what we do and when I was asked to take the helm, I knew that my leadership skills would help guide MKI forward to achieve its mission and goals.”

The Philippines is second only to Guatemala in receiving the greatest assistance.

Cathy Shin, MD, a Children’s Hospital pediatric surgeon, has twice led an all-female medical team to Haiti, including herself as the only surgeon, two anesthesiologists, two pediatricians, two nurses, and a coordinator. Her last weeklong trip concluded on July 7twith 80 children receiving outpatient surgery, antibiotics and other essential services.

Shin observed that MKI is selective in assigning medical staff, and not all volunteers look forward to the disorder that is typical of a Third World country, especially one that is still reeling from a disastrous earthquake in 2010. Yet she said, “I had a great time. We made a difference in the lives of children.”

Never during her Haiti missions did Shin feel her safety was compromised, she said. “The security level was high because St. Damien Hospital in Port au Prince happens to share a wall with the local Jordanian mission to the United Nations.”

The rising cost of healthcare has led MKI to innovative solutions to ensure needy children are never denied the best possible care. Marchelle Sellers, MKI’s executive director, said, “A couple of years ago, we had a young teenager from the Philippines who had a large but benign brain tumor that needed to be removed but was expected to come back as she aged. The discounted estimate from one of our local partners was $130,000.”

The cost was too high and they were faced with having to tell her parents they wouldn’t be able to help. However, MKI had to do more to honor its promise to look for solutions and options for children. “We made several phone calls and found an Ivy League-trained neurosurgeon in India, who successfully performed the surgery for just $13,000. And, MKI is prepared to underwrite the cost of her surgery when she needs to return,” Sellers said.

This same dauntless spirit guides MKI’s volunteers worldwide. Recently, its volunteer staff succeeded in enlisting Philippine Airlines Foundation to give two children, Renzo Quiblat and Ejei Pascual, interisland transportation from the countryside to Manila for heart surgeries. Through a translator, Ejei’s mother Chyrellyn Pascual, praised MKI and Philippine Airlines. “Thank God, because for a long time it was our dream that he be operated on.”

The Children’s Hospital/Los Angeles team in Haiti led by Dr. Cathy Shin (far right) performs surgery with anesthesiologist Dr. Joanna Green (center) and Caitlin Fitzgibbons, nurse. (Photo courtesy of Mending Kids International)

In addition to apl.de. ap, celebrities Robert Downey, Jr., Mel Gibson, Sean Penn and Gene Simmons have helped MKI with donations and participation in fundraising events. “Mel and his ex-wife Robyn have long been supporters and have provided much of the necessary funding that gave MKI the ability to provide complex, critical surgeries for hundreds of children, ” Sellers said. “Today, while they are still both heavily involved, MKI meets a $1.3 million budget through contributions by individuals, corporations, foundations and through lots of special events.”

Charity Navigator, a nonprofit evaluator of charitable organizations, rates “the most efficient charities” as those that “spend 75 percent or more of their budget on their programs and services and less than 25 percent on fundraising and administrative fees.” At MKI, 92 cents of each donated dollar goes directly to surgeries.

The process for approving a case, allocating funds and assigning a local surgeon takes less than three months. MKI’s efficiency in guiding patients from referral to surgery can be credited to its ties with surgical centers across the globe and medical teams readily deployed to six countries nine times a year. Currently, there are 40 children on MKI’s waiting list.

Americans are bombarded with letters, TV and radio PSAs, Web ads and e-mails to give to thousands of causes. It’s easy to become cynics, branding every request junk mail or counter-culturally proud of our defiance when these invitations to do good seem commonplace and overwhelming.

Marketing aside, there are many worthy charities because there are billions of defenseless and sick people in the world. Mending Kids International appeals to courageous souls for help in carrying out its mission of compassion.

For more information: www.mendingkids.org

Anthony Maddela

Anthony Maddela

Anthony Maddela serves disadvantaged communities through the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles. He and his wife, Susan, are raising Charlotte, age 11, and Gregory, 9.