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Fresh Start Surgical Gifts surpasses $50 million in donated medical care

Doctors provide free surgical gifts to children born with physical deformities.

SAN DIEGO — A special group of healthcare providers is celebrating an incredible milestone. $50 million of free care gifted to children born with physical deformities. In this Zevely Zone, I learned about the miracles in the making provided by Fresh Start Surgical Gifts

We witnessed the special bond patients have with a doctor at Comprehensive Dermatology Group in Encinitas. "Hi Annie! Oh, I missed you," said Dr. Bari Cunningham. Andrea Serban is 4 years old and fell into the loving arms of Dr. Bari Cunningham who says this is why she became a doctor. "Absolutely, this is why I went to all of the years of medical school, the residency and the fellowship is to be able to take care of children in their hours of need," said Dr. Cunningham. 

Credit: CBS 8

The doctor is Board Certified in Dermatology and provides her services free of charge to the non-profit organization Fresh Start Surgical Gifts. "Look at that, oh my goodness. Are you ready for tomorrow we are going for another treatment," said Dr. Cunningham. Andrea was born with port-wine stain on her face. She and her father Israel have visited from Mexico for years and received seven free surgeries. They have never received a bill. "Never. No. They are never billed for anything -- for travel, for lodging, for bandages, medicines, Tylenol, the anesthesia, the surgery nothing," said Dr. Cunningham.

Credit: Serban Family

Founded in 1991, Fresh Start just passed the major milestone of gifting $50 million in free medical care to children in need. As of December 31, 2021, Fresh Start has cared for 8,621 patients, offering 22,198 surgeries, with $53,325,191 in donated medical care from both their San Diego and Chicago-based clinics. Medical services are donated by doctors, clinicians, dentists, and other medical professionals who tirelessly dedicate their days off to help children in need and change their lives.

Credit: CBS 8

We met the Robinson family visiting from Dallas. "This is our son Edwin, we call him Eddie," said Cory. "He was born with kind of like a birthmark on his face. It's called a port-wine stain." Years of treatments can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars the Robinsons didn't have, so when Eddie's mother Ling reached out to Fresh Start, and they called her right back? "That was amazing, I was like people do care, like you know they work on a Sunday and gave me a quick phone call," said Ling.

Credit: Fresh Start Surgical Gifts

Fresh Start offers life-changing reconstructive surgeries at Rady Children's Hospital. All the medical professionals generously donate their time and talent to deliver much-needed highly specialized reconstructive plastic surgery and related treatments. Every child receives the highest quality medical care, and the families never see a bill for the services provided. All donations and grant funding are put to the highest use and each dollar donated enables Fresh Start to provide $5 in medical care -- 100% of contributions go directly to medical programs.

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"There is nothing better," said Dr. Cunningham. Andrea's port-wine has almost vanished and now when she looks in the mirror. "She says I am beautiful. I am the most beautiful in the world," said her father, Israel.

We couldn't agree more.

"It's very gratifying to change her life in such a positive and demonstrative way," said Dr. Cunningham. "She's my buddy."

RELATED: Penguins parade through Rady Children's Hospital

“We owe our success entirely to our volunteer medical team who get up at dawn on a weekend with a smile on their face and the willingness to make a child’s dream of a normal appearance come true on their day off,” says Shari Brasher, CEO of Fresh Start Surgical Gifts. “We couldn’t do this without any of our incredible volunteers and donors who offer tremendous support.”

If you'd like more information about Fresh Start Surgical Gifts or would like to make a donation, please click here.

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