Updated: Feb 4
“Helping Kids in Ecuador” has supported over 650 children in need all over Ecuador, providing medical help, hope, and healing to children in need since the start of the group in Salinas in 2011.
Mary and Tod Freeman were in Salinas when they saw a jar with a few coins in a small café that had a sign saying “Please help”. An expat had the idea to try to collect some donations at the cash register for a little girl who needed a very complicated bowel surgery. Her mother, a waitress in the café, did not have the money or the knowledge of how to get this surgery for her daughter. The Freemans thought, well, we can try to do better than that! With the help of a few other expats they held a fundraiser, collected the money, found a surgeon, and contacted a hospital that would do the surgery at a discounted price. The precious little girl received her life-changing surgery. She could now live a normal life and grow up to be a successful young lady.
Mary and Tod thought that many more children must be out there who need medical care in Ecuador, but don’t have the resources to find it.
Sounds simple, doesn’t it? To be honest, no.
The Freemans got busy. They founded “Helping Kids in Ecuador” (HKIE) and found a wonderful plastic surgeon, Dr. Pablo Salamea, to agree to be the medical director. They told everybody they knew what they were doing, asked for donations, and found hospitals, clinics, and doctors who gave their services for anywhere from free (most of the doctors), to significantly discounted. Fundraisers of all kinds were held. A 401C3 was organized in the United States so that friends and family could donate tax free as well. They worked nonstop. Children with medical needs were suggested and Mary and Tod found doctors who would screen the children to determine exactly what they needed, then slowly the money began coming in.
Some of the first children helped by HKIE had serious heart problems which required surgeries. Many others had cleft lip and cleft palates. Others had deformities that were not life-threatening but particularly difficult for the child such as missing outer ears, fused fingers, lazy eyes or general sight issues.
One time I asked Mary, with all the free hospitals in Ecuador, why can’t these children get cleft lips and palates fixed there for free? Why can’t these children obtain appropriate medical care in the free clinics and hospitals?
She responded, first of all, Dr. Salamea has seen many children in his professional career with cleft lips and palates that had been so poorly fixed that the child needed further surgery to repair the repair. The children had to undergo yet another difficult surgery and recovery. She explained that this is due to the fact that there are very few plastic surgeons in Ecuador who are trained appropriately in this type of surgery. Second, many children live far from the hospitals in the bigger cities and don’t have the money to travel to see a doctor, arrange for surgery, stay somewhere in the city for the pre-op tests, pay for those tests, buy the needed medication for after care, stay in the city until the child is recovered enough for travel, and then travel back for the removal of stitches. This does not even take into account the cost of meals, loss of time working, and loss of income to a family that may already be struggling. They feel overwhelmed and don’t know how they can afford surgery or even how to go about arranging it.
The Freemans discovered that often a child might need a very multifaceted surgery, such as heart surgery for a difficult tumor. In these types of complex medical situations, Dr. Salamea proved to have outstanding skills locating doctors, nurses, anesthesiologists, and surgeons who could and would do the surgeries, most of the time for free.
He would find an appropriate surgical operating room and a hospital that would discount their charges for the child. The Freemans would help the parents, using HKIE donations, to navigate the pre-operation requisites and generally be the point of contact for the family to smooth the process from first doctor visit to removal of stitches.
Other medical needs occasionally may not be as complicated. A child who appears to have a serious eye problem may only need medication or special glasses. Others need eye surgery. A child having problems walking may only need leg braces or special shoes, but others may need leg or foot prostheses. Either way, it is a child who has a medical need, and this need keeps the child from living a normal life. HKIE has stepped into many families' lives and facilitated a transition between a child in need and life-changing medical care.
Currently, while children in need come from all around Ecuador, most medical needs are facilitated in Cuenca. Recently though, Dr. Salamea organized a medical trip to Taisha, in the Amazon. Flying there in a small plane, carrying everything needed for multiple surgeries, he and a crew of medical professionals from around Ecuador helped 36 patients who had no access to medical care of any kind.
For more information about HKIE, please visit “Helping Kids in Ecuador” on Facebook where you will find many pictures and stories of children before and after their surgeries and care. The website for HKIE is www.helpingkidsinecuador.com
Donations are always welcome. Contact the organization through the website above or Mary Freeman via Facebook Messenger to donate.
Author: Sarah Canez