Life-Changing Surgeries Needed
A mother’s quest to help their children drove three young women to bundle up their little ones and board a sailboat on an isolated island in the Central Pacific called Teraina late last year to begin an open-ocean journey to Christmas Island in Kiribati where they had heard that a pediatrics team from Pacific Islands Medical Aid would soon be there.
Two of the three children, 3 and 6 years old, had serious cleft lips and the third, a one year old little girl, a cleft palate and uvula … conditions that would trouble them for a lifetime.
We were told the seas were rough on the 240-mile journey, but the children arrived safely and just in time to be seen. The PIMA pediatrics team, headed by Dr. Kathleen Smith of La Canada California and Mending Kids International volunteer nurse Karen Davis had already examined more than 700 children on Christmas Island by the time these three little ones arrived.
But with examinations complete, photographs taken and proper documentation underway, the search for help for these three little children began.
Dr. Smith did not think the surgeries should be done on Christmas Island by our PIMA volunteer surgeons due to the need for special post-operative care, so the hunt was started to find help in the U.S.
Stepping forward right away were three great organizations: Mending Kids International of Burbank, California; Operation Smile and Shriner’s Hospital in Los Angeles. Dr. William Magee, MD, the son of Operation Smile founders William P. and Kathleen S. Magee, agreed to do the surgeries and Shriner’s Hospital agreed to help.
Mending Kids stepped forward to provide transportation, host families for the children and coordination between the surgeon, hospital and home care.
With proper documentation, our U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency in Honolulu granted visa waivers for each child so that they could get the medical care they needed.
Dr. Magee could not do the surgery until early this year, so the mothers agreed to stay with their children until they could be flown to the U.S., virtually camping out on Christmas Island for more than three months, awaiting help.
This is a story of a mother’s strength to help her children and of cooperation among many who care to help others.
The children were flown from Christmas Island to Honolulu in early January, accompanied by senior Christmas Island nurse Tauatekan Ataia, helped in Honolulu by Ms. Shari Higa of the American Airlines Admiral’s Club, then accompanied to Los Angeles on American Airlines as part of their Ambassador’s program. Two American Airlines flight attendants, Ms. Michele Genovese and Ms. Ingrid Sargis flew from L.A. to Honolulu to meet the children and returned with them right away to L.A.
They were met in L.A. by their Mending Kids hosts and taken to Shriner’s Hospital for medical evaluation and surgery.
Surgeries and recuperation should be underway now, and we look forward to reporting the results in next month’s PIMA newsletter.
Meeting in L.A.
Our Heartfelt Thanks Go To…
Gordon West of Gordon West Radio School in Costa Mesa, California for providing a replacement transceiver for the nurse’s clinic on the remote Island of Teraina in Kiribati so that she can now successfully communicate with the hospital and doctor on Christmas Island.
Our good friend Gordon originally installed the communications system between Christmas Island and the outer islands of Teraina and Tabuaeran several years ago. Thank you, Gordon!
Barbara and Willis Preston, owners of Allstate Bio-Medical Systems in Tyler, Texas, for donating more X-ray film and chemicals for the X-ray darkroom at little Ronton Hospital on Christmas Island…which is a facility they personally set up on the island four years ago. Thanks Barbara and Willis!