South Florida Hospital News
Sunday August 25, 2019
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March 2007 - Volume 3 - Issue 9

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International Kids Fund: World Class Care for Sick Children

At a fundraising gala several years ago for the International Kids Fund (IKF), Rolando Rodriguez introduced a video about an infant named Sofia. Sofia was diagnosed with a congenital cardiac anomaly in the first month of her life, and although the defect was one that can be surgically repaired with excellent results, the operation that Sophie needed was not available in Columbia, her native country. Her desperate parents brought her to the United States, and through the efforts of IKF, Sofia underwent successful open heart surgery.

The short video of Sofia’s journey was moving and informative for the attentive gala audience – but the best moment occurred after it had concluded and the lights went back up, to reveal Rodriguez standing at the podium with a little girl in his arms – Sophie, a happy, smiling child with a healthy heart.

Sofia is one of hundreds of children who have received life saving treatment at Holtz Children’s Hospital of the University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Medical Center (JMMC), where the IKF was created five years ago as a program of the Jackson Memorial Foundation (JMF). JMF is the fundraising arm of JMMC and Rodriguez is the foundation’s President. He and others, including IKF executive director Maria Luisa Chea, developed the IKF program in response to the needs of thousands of families around the globe but particularly in Latin America and the Caribbean, whose children have dire medical needs that cannot be met in their homelands but whose needs are easily met in the United States. Some of these children are already in South Florida, and when they get sick they simply are not eligible for care.

"Imagine the heartache and anxiety of parents whose child has a birth defect, a catastrophic injury or life threatening illness," he says. "Then try to imagine being told that while there is treatment for the child’s problem, it is not available to you. Parents are desperate; they exhaust every possible resource and option to try to help their child."

Such a scenario is unimaginable in the United States, where access to excellent pediatric care is a given and there are numerous resources to help families whose children need essential care and treatment. Holtz Children’s Hospital, affiliated with the University of Miami, is one such resource – it is one of the nation’s premier pediatric facilities, offering state-of-the-art pediatric and neonatal care, including the most advanced diagnostic tests, surgical procedures and medical treatments provided by leading pediatric practitioners. It is also one of the country’s leading pediatric research centers.

"Families would come to us, with their sick kids, saying, ‘We heard about you and our son or daughter is dying.’ This is a public facility; we cannot give use taxpayer money to give free care to non-residents of Miami-Dade County. We raised funds to help some individual families but realized quickly that the need was enormous, and we couldn’t do it haphazardly. We had to develop a structure and systems in order to help more families. We didn’t want to turn people away."

IKF was developed as a special philanthropic foundation within JMF to assist families with critically ill children to travel to Holtz Children’s Hospital from around the globe for care. IKF raises the funds for each child individually and uses those funds to pay for treatment at reduced rates that are negotiated with the hospitals. While the majority of the children who come to Holtz for care through IKF are from Haiti and Jamaica, children from Guatemala, Peru, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Columbia, Israel and Iraq are among those receiving care. The most commonly treated condition is cardiac defects and most of the children are infants and toddlers, although the age range is from newborns to 18 year olds. IKF has grown to become more than a fundraising organization. As the staff worked with families, they recognized that there were unmet needs that went beyond finances. Now, the program assists families with practical matters such as housing, visas and other social support services.

IKF relies on the generosity of individuals, companies and organizations to finance the cost of care for the children. Donated funds cover the use of the Holtz facilities and the services of its physicians and staff. IKF has a spectrum of donation options available, including special events, support groups and volunteer opportunities. "100% of the money we raise goes to the care," says Rodriguez. "It’s a direct donation and that makes donors feel good. We don’t make a profit and we have learned how to maximize the dollars. Unfortunately, we have had to occasionally turn families away."

Rodriguez has a vision for IKF that will prevent that from ever happening in the future. "We are a small program, still in our infancy, with a lot of growing to do. Despite our size, though, we have generated extraordinary response and media coverage, not only in South Florida but throughout the U.S. and internationally. Miami is an international city, with many Hispanic residents and for them this issue is relevant. They are committed to helping these children.

"We would like to become the St. Jude’s for Latin America and the Caribbean," says Rodriguez. "We feel that we are uniquely positioned to do this, with JMMC’s excellent reputation and resources and the support that we have from so many organizations and individuals. There is incredible potential here."

To learn more about the International Kids Fund, visit the web site, www.internationalkidsfund.org. To contact Roland Rodriguez, call (305) 355-4685.
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