Mending Kids celebrates a milestone

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Malibu native, and Mending Kids patron Chris Cortazzo (right), is shown with his mom Pat Cortazzo at the 2018 Mending Kids event. Photo by Julie Ellerton/TMT.

A favorite Malibu charity offers children life-saving surgeries

A well-known charity supported by many Malibu residents is about to mark a milestone birthday. Mending Kids is celebrating its 18th year in Malibu with a gala March 18. In addition to another year of providing life-saving surgeries to children around the world, the nonprofit is on track to “mending” its 5,000th patient.

Mending Kids provides life-saving and life-changing surgeries to children worldwide who otherwise cannot afford treatment or have no access to treatment. The nonprofit has helped children ranging in age from 5 months to 18 years. 

“They’re mended through different programs,” said Malibu’s Isabelle Fox, the group’s executive director. “Either through individual surgical care where we bring kids to the United States for free care through partnership with Shriners and other organizations or we send them from one part of the world we can’t reach to a partner hospital in a third country like India or Argentina to get their conditions fixed.” 

Most often, the children’s ailments are congenital, including heart conditions requiring surgeries. Mending Kids also recruits surgical teams from local hospitals including Cedars-Sinai and Children’s Hospital Los Angeles for surgical missions all over the world. While initial support came from Malibu, the organization is now based in Woodland Hills.

Through a network of partner agencies and previous surgical missions, ailing children who need care are identified and some are brought to the United States for free care courtesy of Mending Kids. The nonprofit also assesses needs and identifies equipment necessary to facilitate surgeries in the U.S. and globally. The organization then commits to a five-year annual mission in each location it travels to perform aid.

Over the past 18 years, at least two dozen Malibu families have hosted children from South America, Africa, the Philippines, and other impoverished areas as they await life-altering medical care. The local families serve as foster parents. They take the children to medical appointments, accompany them to surgery, and participate in aftercare while they recuperate before eventually returning to their home countries. 

“Often these families already have children,” Fox explained. “Many have children about the same age so it’s a great cross-cultural experience for both the host families and the patients. Often times, those families stay in touch with the patients after they’ve left the U.S.”

Back by popular demand, Mending Kids is throwing its birthday party at the Malibu Jewish Center and Synagogue on March 18. The venue was selected specifically as an architecturally interesting site with the added benefit of indoor/outdoor space “to have people feel a little more comfortable,” said Fox. 

“We’re honoring local realtor Chris Cortazzo, a Mending Kids supporter who has also hosted fundraisers at his Malibu home; Dr. Robert Cho, a Shriners pediatric surgeon; and Romina Ubillus, an inspiring former patient from Peru who will be sharing her journey back to health and now is a pre-medical student who wants to give back,” Fox added.

The 200-seat event is sold out but the nonprofit is still accepting sponsorships for the gala program. 

“We want to make 2023 the year we reach 5,000 kids mended and we want to go on to mend the same amount in half the time,” Fox said.

“A lot of people donate on faith because we’re this tiny but mighty organization that’s plugged away, adapted during the pandemic, still remain relevant, and still mend kids and people just give us money without fully understanding the depth of the care that we’ve given,” Fox concluded. ‘When we have the opportunity to bring a child who’s grown into a young woman who’s accomplished things, who’s going to give back now thanks to the benevolence of strangers who believed in her right to have a future, that’s what I love about the people who support us. They champion the right to live to your full potential and that’s only possible by giving these kids a chance at futures. So, the theme for this year’s gala is a birthday theme because we realize that for 18 years we’ve been in the business of giving kids birthdays because by extending their lives they get more birthdays.”

As of December, 4,860 kids from 70 countries, including the U.S., were given life-saving surgeries. In 2023 surgical missions were deployed to Tanzania, Cambodia and in February a child from Fiji had surgery through Mending Kids making Fiji the 71st country the charity has served.

Donations can be made at MendingKids.org.