Healthy Kids - Winter 2023

THE GIFT OF A Fresh Start

Birth defects do not discriminate and neither should the care to treat them. That’s the belief behind Fresh Start Surgical Gifts, a medical charity that transforms the lives of disadvantaged infants, children and teens with physical deformities caused by birth, accidents, abuse or disease through the gift of reconstructive surgery and related health care services.

Founded in 1991 by the late Dennis Nigro, MD, a San Diego plastic surgeon who was inspired by trips to remote areas to provide reconstructive surgeries to kids in need, Fresh Start embarked on a partnership with Rady Children’s in 2009 to create the Fresh Start Clinic at Rady Children’s, allowing the organization to

treat complex conditions and provide care more frequently. “Fresh Start is the safety net for children that are uninsured, underinsured or do not have the means to undergo a procedure that is being turned down by their insurance. This is because a lot of their conditions, such as port wine stains, scarring from abuse and others, are considered cosmetic,” explains Michelle Pius, chief development officer for Fresh Start. “We don’t charge for any of our services, and a lot of our surgeons, nurses, scrub techs and other clinic volunteers are Rady Children’s staff.” The Fresh Start clinic, located on the Rady Children’s campus, makes use of the Hospital’s operating rooms on weekends, when surgeries are not performed on Hospital patients. “We have a shared goal to make sure the kids are getting the same exceptional services they need, regardless of their ability to pay,” Puis explains. Fresh Start holds six two- day weekend surgery clinics and a number of dental clinics every year. During

surgery weekend cycles, the organization is able to treat 60 to 65 kids, thanks to the roughly 400 community volunteers, mostly medical professionals, who donate their weekends. To date, nearly 9,000 surgeries with a value of more than $51 million have been performed on the Rady Children’s campus. “A lot of our volunteer surgeons and medical professionals have said what they like best about working with Fresh Start is that they can give back without having to leave the community,” explains Celene Nigro, RN, Fresh Start’s director of medical programs. “They have been on medical missions in their career, and they now like that they can provide this high- quality care in a great facility where they have access to all the supplemental needs to provide the comprehensive, follow-up care that’s often needed with complex surgeries.” To learn more, visit


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