May Surgery Weekend Recap

We had an amazing Surgery Weekend on May 3rd and 4th – in total, 10 kids & teens received reconstructive surgery on Saturday, and we saw over 30 additional kids & teens on Sunday for laser treatments, speech therapy, consultations, and other appointments. All of our surgeries were successful and only 2 patients required overnight care and hospitalization – both of those patients are now back with their families and on their way to great recoveries. To make this Surgery Weekend extra special, on Sunday we had a few guests, Pirate Sam Diego & Flamenco Guitarist David Maldonado, who serenaded and brightened the day for our patients and their families.

One of the patients who received surgery on Saturday was Ema, who is a very special little girl:

ema before & after

At only six years old, Ema (pronounced Emma) has experienced so much at such a young age. Originally from Romania, Ema’s birth parents chose to leave her in the care of the system because of an incorrect fatal medical diagnosis. As Ema grew and her health stabilized, her parents felt it was in Ema’s best interest to remain in the system so she might receive more qualified, full time care and be protected from societies cruelties. It was a heart wrenching decision yet the only one they felt they could make. Ema was born with Apert Syndrome, which is characterized by abnormal development of the skull, hands, and feet caused by the premature fusion of certain bones. The early fusion prevents proper growth of the skull which leads to a sunken appearance, various dental, vision, and potentially brain development problems if not properly treated. Individuals with Apert syndrome typically have webbed hands and feet which require complicated surgeries.

In Romania, Ema stayed in various hospitals and facilities as was necessary.  In 2009, a young woman named Janelle was doing missionary work and met Ema at a state run children’s hospital – it was love at first sight. Since then, Janelle has developed a loving bond with Ema, and works closely with her family, social worker, and case director. Their efforts aim to provide Ema with a loving home, reconnection with her birth family, & quality education. Preeminently an essential component of a happy, healthy, and viable future for Ema was cutting edge, high-quality, long-term healthcare. Luckily, Fresh Start has been able to provide Ema with just that through several volunteer surgeons and their teams once Janelle brought her to the United States.

Ema has been a Fresh Start patient since 2010 and has blossomed in an environment aimed to enhance her quality of life. Ema has received over $220,000 in donated medical care and has attended over 90 medical appointments, including 11 reconstructive surgeries and many dental and eye appointments. At the May Surgery Weekend, Ema received reconstructive surgeries on her right hand, focused on separating her fused fingers, performed by volunteer Dr. James Chao.

Despite a rough journey that started overseas, Ema is a resilient little girl with a playful personality and energy to match. Since becoming a Fresh Start patient, Ema has made new friends, developed life-long relationships with her team of volunteer surgeons, and has transformed, inside and out. Thanks to her loving host mother, Janelle, and Fresh Start, Ema has been given the chance to receive the healthcare and self-confidence she needs to be successful in life – but it is Ema’s smile and spirit that truly display her transformation since becoming a Fresh Start patient.


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