The Coast News Group
Surgery Weekend at the Craniofacial Kid’s Center at Rady’s Children’s Hospital. From left: Amanda Thompson, Fresh Start’s development manager; Lupita Morales, Fresh Start’s patient services manager and Michelle Pius, Fresh Start’s director of major gifts. Courtesy photos

‘Fresh Start’ for youth with physical deformities

CARLSBAD — Amanda Thompson was a part-time teacher in a computer lab at an elementary school in 2008 when she began volunteering at Fresh Start Surgical Gifts. 


“I learned about it on Craigslist and always had a passion for helping children,” she recalled. Today, Thompson serves as development manager for the nonprofit that provides free reconstructive surgery and comprehensive medical services to children and young adults who suffer from physical deformities caused by birth defects, accidents, abuse or disease.

The weekend of July 13-14 Thompson was a team member at the fourth Surgery Weekend of the year. More than 13 children underwent surgery, and another 30 received speech therapy and laser treatment to diminish scars, burns and birthmarks.

In participating in the event, Thompson said she and the others witnessed the “true definition of strength.”

“All of the children went through a physical battle, but they continue to remain positive,” she explained. “They never ask, ‘Why me?’ Instead, they grin and laugh and even thank their doctors after surgery.”

Fresh Start was started by the late Dr. Dennis Nigro, a plastic surgeon from Encinitas.

“He was going on mission trips to other countries and realized his work could be better done in his office where he had control over all the elements,” she explained. “Here in the United States we have high standards that are not always available in other places.”

Subsequently, Fresh Start and Nigro worked together in establishing a partnership with Rady’s Children’s Hospital that led to the creation of the 7,800-square-foot Craniofacial Kid’s Center.

To date, an estimated $2 million in services are provided each year thanks to surgeons, anesthesiologists, nurses and other medical professionals who donate their time.

Equally important, Thompson added, are community partners generate donations.

In July 2005, Fresh Start launched a foundation to fund its mission in perpetuity. The funding received from the foundation allows 100 percent of contributions to go directly to medical and dental care for their young patients.

Fresh Start also hosts two major fundraisers each year: a fundraising dinner and a two-day celebrity golf tournament. The last tournament was headlined by actors Alfonso Ribeiro and Grant Show at Morgan Run Club & Resort in March.

Also on hand was Angela Cruz-Salgado, a recipient of more than $156,000 in treatment over a 15-year period for a congenital bilateral cleft lip and palate. During the banquet, Angela described the anguish she endured as a child from teasing as well as the physical pain she experienced from multiple surgeries that brought her to the point she is today in her life.

“Thanks to Fresh Start, I am the first one in my family to attend college, a dream come true for me,” she told the guests. “Thanks to Fresh Start, I now have confidence in myself and am living a normal life which I have always wanted.”

In addition to fundraisers, Fresh Start receives revenue from surgeons and other members of the volunteer team who compete in the Carlsbad half and full marathon.

“Last year our running team raised $17,000,” Thompson said. “It’s a fun, different way for people to participate.”

Since 1991, Fresh Start has provided more than $24 million of free reconstructive surgery and comprehensive medical services to more than 6,100 children and young adults. The three main goals of Fresh Start are to provide medical service, education and research to help eradicate the world of correctable childhood deformities and disfigurement.

“We try to keep the patient ratio 50 percent from the United States and 50 percent international with children we bring here for surgical treatment,” Thompson said.

In addition to the children who received care during July’s Surgery Weekend, prospective patients visited the clinic for the first time for an evaluation of their condition. Fresh Start accepts children under the age of 18 from financially disadvantaged families who are uninsured or underinsured. The next Surgery Weekends for 2013 are scheduled for Sept. 7 and Sept. 8, and Nov. 9 and Nov. 10.

Fresh Start will host its biggest fundraiser to date aboard the USS Midway on Oct. 11. For information about tickets, volunteerism or making a tax-deductible donation, contact Amanda Thompson at (760) 448.2018 or email [email protected].