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Hometown Medical Mission Brings Surgical Care to Children From L.A. and Across the Globe

Jacob Rubio is wheeled out of the operating room after his surgery during the medical mission at the 310 Building.

At first, it looked like any other day at the 310 Building, Cedars-Sinai's Outpatient Surgery Center on San Vicente Boulevard. Patients filled the seats of the first-floor waiting room, some anxious, some determined, all ready as the admission clerks called their names. In the pre-op area, nurses, surgeons, and other medical staff looked over charts and conferred about upcoming procedures.

Business as usual, until you noticed the patients were all children, the surgeons were all volunteering, and the entire day of surgery was part of a charitable mission, a partnership between Cedars-Sinai and the medical nonprofit organization Mending Kids International.

About 50 medical personnel from Cedars-Sinai spent Saturday, July 20, helping 18 children receive outpatient surgeries, some relatively simple, some quite complex. The children ranged in age from 6 months to 18 years and came from as close as East Los Angeles, and as far away as Central America and Africa. Medical missions with Mending Kids International usually take place in foreign countries. This time, Cedars-Sinai became the site of the mission.

Philip Frykman, MD, PhD, performs surgery during the mission.

"For some of the children, these are surgeries they don't have access to because of economics," said Andrew Freedman, MD, vice chair of Pediatric Surgical Services and director of Pediatric Urology at the medical center, who also served as medical director for the Saturday surgeries. "For others, particularly those coming from foreign countries, the skill set needed to perform the surgeries may simply not exist where they live."

Surgeries ranged from the removal of cysts and lesions to the repair of urological birth defects and hand reconstructions.

Freedman, who has participated in several international medical missions, said Saturday's event was also an opportunity for Cedars-Sinai's volunteers.

"It's the first time we've done this on site, and it's a very important day," he said. "Not everyone can take a week off work for a medical mission. This is a wonderful experience for the physicians and nurses, to recharge our batteries and be reminded of why you went into medicine in the first place."

Philip Frykman, MD, PhD, associate director of Pediatric Surgery at Cedars-Sinai, has participated in several surgical missions to China with Mending Kids International. He called the chance to offer medical care to local children profoundly satisfying.

"Medical care in this country can be so expensive compared to other parts of the world," Frykman said. "This time, it's a hometown mission."

While awaiting surgery, Angela Huerta (left) talks to a volunteer from Mending Kids International.

For Angela Huerta, a 10-year-old with shiny brown hair and shining brown eyes, the day of surgeries meant she could have a cyst growing beneath her right ear removed, and then biopsied. She sat in her mother's lap in the waiting room, wearing pink flannel pajamas and wrapped in a bright purple blanket.

"I'm just going to make her as comfortable as I can," said Yolanda Hermosilla, Angela's mother. The family lives in Los Angeles. "If we weren't here today, I'm not sure how we would have had this taken care of. It would have taken us much, much longer."

Across the waiting room, Karin and Alex Del Cid, also from Los Angeles, sat huddled close together. Their 6-month-old daughter, Addelyn, was in an operating room where Frykman was removing a mass from her lower left leg.

"We're very grateful," Karin Del Cid said. She brushed tears from her eyes and gave a wry smile. "My baby – I'm so nervous."

As with Angela Huerta, Addelyn's care will include a biopsy, and post-operative care and visits.

"We couldn't have afforded to do this on our own," Alex Del Cid said. "I don't know what we would have done."

Even as the Del Cids waited nervously, little Addelyn was waking up from a successful procedure. A nurse in the post-op area on the second floor cradled the infant, and her surgeon, Frykman, checked in to make sure all was well.

Jacob Rubio gets a kiss from a Mending Kids International volunteer before surgery.

In a room nearby, Myles Cohen, MD, director of Hand and Upper Extremity Reconstructive Surgery at the Cedars-Sinai Orthopaedic Center, was preparing to perform surgery on one of two brothers from Ethiopia. Both of the 12-year-old boys have a genetic birth defect that prevented the middle portion of each hand from developing normally.

Ryan DellaMaggiora, MD, orthopedic surgeon specializing in shoulder, hand and upper extremity reconstructive surgery, would operate on the other twin.

Though a complete reconstruction of the boys' hands isn't possible, Saturday's surgeries would make the hands more functional.

"This is not an operation which could be performed in their home country, even if their families were able to afford it," Cohen said. "This is what we are all about here at Cedars-Sinai – if you consider yourself a citizen of the world, then you must behave as a citizen of the world."

For Allison Jenkins, RN, the lead OR operations nurse, an international mission would be a dream opportunity. With two children at home and a full-time job, however, it's not in the immediate future. Instead, when Jenkins heard about the Mending Kids International mission at Cedars-Sinai, she knew she had to take part.

"We look after children here every day of the week, and I have children myself," Jenkins said. "I feel very privileged to be in a position to be a part of this. We are lucky – I have job and my kids are healthy, and I just want to give back a little bit."

Her colleague Rita Corbin, RN, agreed.

"It's exciting – I get goose bumps when I think about it, that we're taking care of these children who really need help and wouldn't get it otherwise," Corbin said. "This is just a part of the Cedars-Sinai, culture and you feel like you can't not be a part of it."

Click the image below to see a video from the hometown medical mission.