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David Lawrence Community Service Awards: The Fontana/Riverside Volunteer Group

For more than a decade, the David Lawrence Community Service Award has recognized Kaiser Permanente employees and physicians throughout our regions who champion outstanding volunteer ac

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For more than a decade, the David Lawrence Community Service Award has recognized Kaiser Permanente employees and physicians throughout our regions who champion outstanding volunteer activities and initiatives to improve the health of our communities. The annual award is named in honor of David M. Lawrence, MD, former chairman and CEO of Kaiser Foundation Health Plan/Hospitals, and a lifelong advocate for improving community health.

Two awardees are selected annually in each region for their significant contributions to improving the overall health of a community or population. Their commitments are focused on health and social issues, including increasing access to health care for the underserved, eliminating disparities in health outcomes of racial and ethnic minorities, and addressing the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work, and age that can impact their health.

The 2017 Kaiser Permanente Southern California Region winners are Maxwell Cheng, OD, and the Kaiser Permanente Fontana/Riverside Volunteer Subgroup of InterFACE. They will each receive a $10,000 charitable contribution from Kaiser Permanente to the nonprofit organization of their choice.

Some Kaiser Permanente Fontana/Riverside Volunteer Group medical team members take a break at the end of a long day. Kaiser Permanente Fontana/Riverside Volunteer Group performs life-changing reconstructive surgery for indigent children in Mexico.

Congenital and acquired deformities, ranging from facial disfigurements and extra fingers to burn scars, can be debilitating. Those affected often suffer physical pain or disability, as well as endless teasing and stares from strangers.

For nearly three decades, the Kaiser Permanente Fontana/Riverside Volunteer Group has traveled three times a year to Mexico to help give impoverished children with complex deformities the best life possible. The group is a subgroup of InterFACE, an international nonprofit organization based in San Diego, California, whose volunteer surgical team offers no-cost, reconstructive surgery for children in need.

“In the United States, if a child has a deformity, there are many more resources to help him or her receive the appropriate medical treatment, regardless if their family can afford it,” said Valerie Sedor, a certified registered nurse anesthetist at Fontana Medical Center who has participated in the group for the past 17 years. “In Mexico, children living in poverty will likely never receive care for their deformity, and may needlessly suffer.”

The group of up to 90 medical team members commits to these journeys. The team consists of:  surgeons, anesthetists, anesthesiologists, nurses, technicians, speech pathologists, translators, and other Kaiser Permanente staff who spend three days performing 50 to 75 surgeries in either hospital or mobile operating rooms. The group partners with medical professionals from: the U.S. Navy; University of California, San Diego; and the Kaiser Permanente San Diego Medical Center. Team members also collaborate with the Mexican Red Cross and local physicians and nurses, and share their new techniques and best practices.

Each year, the Kaiser Permanente Fontana/Riverside Volunteer Group travels twice to the border city of Mexicali and once to the city of La Piedad in the state of Michoacán. Since retired Kaiser Permanente anesthesiologist, Douglas Flores, MD, launched the collaboration 27 years ago, the group has performed more than 4,500 life-changing surgeries.

Whether the team repairs a patient’s cleft lip and palate or malformed ear, or removes a hemangioma (noncancerous tumor), “We are dedicated to changing the dire circumstances for every child in need that we encounter,” said Sedor.

The group also provides postoperative care, and if time and resources permit, surgically treats adults with deformities. 

The team’s goal is to increase its number of volunteers and surgeries performed in Mexico. Team members help coordinate volunteers, gather the necessary materials and supplies, and partner with other organizations to enhance the group’s capacity. The team is working to expand its much-needed surgeries to a third city in Mexico.

The volunteer group has already received the Kaiser Permanente Southern California Everyday Hero Award for its impressive work. The Mexican media has also recognized the group’s efforts and promotes the program to the residents of Mexico.   

“Helping to transform these children’s lives and seeing them and their families so happy is the best reward,” said Sedor. 

Read the story of another awardee: Dr. Cheng