Pongratz O&P has been providing prosthetic and orthotic services to St. Andrews Children's Clinic since November 2001. Over the years we have fit hundreds of young children with all types of specialized orthotic and prosthetic devices. The first Thursday of every month we load up our lab with all the tools we need, caravan down to Nogales with a team of clinicians, and have a great day with the medical volunteers from around the state caring for all the clinic kids. Over the years we have developed life-long relationships with many children and their families as they out grow each customized device and return back to clinic. "The kids keep us coming back, their eyes are filled with such love", says Pongratz. "We are thankful to have the opportunity to be part of such a heart-felt mission of service to these kids and families. Experiencing St Andrew's Children Clinic will change your life forever".
The Clinic of Love . . . La Clinica de los Niños . . . These are affectionate names for St. Andrew's Children's Clinic in Nogales, AZ, celebrating its 32nd year of giving free medical care to children from poor Mexican families.
One autumn day in 1973 in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico, some concerned parents of children with cerebral palsy began a small home school. The public school system had no place for their children. The therapist who came to teach them recruited a doctor to attend to medical needs.
Today, the caring parents' original idea flourishes. Housed in an Episcopal church just north of the Mexican border, St. Andrew's Children's Clinic welcomes almost 250 children and their families the first Thursday of each month, except hot July.
Powering the Clinic are Three Essentials:
- Volunteers - from surgeons to food servers; many come for an hour and stay connected for years.
- Donations - of money, medicine, and essential goods from churches, businesses, civic groups, charitable trusts, and individuals.
- Love - from parents facing great obstacles in their quest for help.
The children, from ages 1 month to 18 years, have a myriad of medical problems, from spina bifida to cerebral palsy, from Down's syndrome to speech and hearing problems, and more. X-rays, laboratory tests, prescriptions, orthopedic devices, and hearing aids are just some of the aids these children need right now, or over time.
St. Andrew's Church bustles on Clinic days. That's when it is quickly transformed into a medical clinic. What may look like disorder to a visitor is a tried and true procedure. Everyone has an important job to do and knows how to do it well.
Because no one ever receives a bill, there is not a computer in sight. And medicine is practiced the old-fashioned way, with scrupulous patient records in plain manila folders, and doctors, nurses, and students solving problems directly in stand-up conferences.
As the morning gears up, women from the community hurry to serve snacks to families who have traveled for hours or all night by bus. Others prepare lunch. Some volunteers gather and set out medical record files, ready for each specialist. Interpreters stand by. A craft table is set up to occupy the children while they wait. Volunteers sort and bag donated clothes and food from Borderland Food Bank to be given to families at day's end. Outside, a local Rotary club donates a candy-apple red wheelchair to the Clinic.
Vans, driven by volunteers, arrive from the Border-la línea-with their important cargo. The Parish Hall is now a waiting room where children greet one another and the volunteers (and Santa Claus in December). Soon the medical professionals, many from the University of Arizona College of Medicine, check in and begin to see their patients.
Each medical specialty occupies its own corner of the Church building: orthopedics in the gaily painted day care center; pediatrics in the stained glass-lit hallway; orthotics in the choir room; audiology in the sacristy, a baptismal font adjacent; physical therapy in the front hall. In one room, a speech pathologist works with children with cleft palate and hearing disorders. Nearby, another speech pathologist works with children with cerebral palsy.
There is a certain hum and buzz as children with major health problems and their loving parents gather with the medical staff. Interpreters are called from one group to another. A dad stands by holding a Teddy bear while his son is examined. The atmosphere is charged with possibilities.
Within a few hours, each child will see a specialist, perhaps more. Some patients will receive medications; others will be fitted for a brace or artificial limb; some will be scheduled for follow-up tests in Tucson or surgeries to be done in Tucson or at Shriners hospitals in Sacramento, CA and Spokane, WA.
As Thursday comes to a close, vans begin to transport families back to la línea and their long journeys home.
The estimated dollar value of time donated each year to St. Andrew's Children's Clinic is approximately $1 million.
On board most Clinic days are 2 orthopedic surgeons and several orthopedic residents and students, 5 pediatricians, 2 neurologists, 1 pediatric cardiologist, 6-8 medical students, 1 ophthalmology therapist, 1 equipment technician to fit wheel chairs, walkers, crutches, and other aids. Nearly 100 lay volunteers make the day run smoothly.
Each year approximately 36 children receive free orthopedic surgeries, 15 have cleft palate surgery and 3 undergo miscellaneous other surgeries at Shriners as well as University (of Arizona) Medical Center, Tucson Medical Center, St. Joseph's Hospital of Carondelet Health Network, and selected hospitals in Mexico.
A former patient, now a young law student at the University of Hermosillo, Mexico, recently visited. In 1979, she arrived with a deformed neck and back; surgery and braces corrected the problem, and determination and faith did the rest.
Young Luis Enrique de la Cruz came to the Clinic with neuromotor disabilities and severe weakness of speech muscles. He now owns a computer business and works for his local government in Sonora.
Rosa, age 15, volunteers at the Clinic. Once unable to hear or speak, a quality hearing aid and speech lessons enable her to thrive.
Clinic roots as a teaching center continue with the University of Arizona College of Medicine, which sends students to work directly with the families. The Clinic also fosters a connection with health professionals in Mexico, teaching them to care for their own.
Dedicated volunteers appear and new sources of funding are discovered