Jul 22, 2011

The Border: Mexican border security makes it harder to seek medical care at Shriners clinic

ksl.com - Mexican border security makes it harder to seek medical care at Shriners clinic: ""In America, if you have a club or something, you're going to find some sort of care. But these (Mexican) kids come in at age 3, 4 and 5 having never had anything. They're basically crippled and shunned from society because of their conditions. You're really giving them a second chance," said Dr. Steve Santora, a Shriners pediatric orthopedic surgeon.

But second chances for Mexican children who suffer from orthopedic defects or injuries have become much more difficult to provide and much less frequent.

Violence in Juarez forced Shriners to move its clinic across the border to El Paso, Texas. 'It would be like going to Baghdad to do a clinic or maybe even worse,' said Santora, who started going to Mexico in 1985.

For 30 years, doctors from the Salt Lake hospital held a daylong orthopedic clinic in Juarez four or five times a year, seeing as many as 300 children. Shriners, which provides free pediatric care, would fly those needing surgery to Utah.

Those numbers have dwindled greatly since the move to El Paso. Santora said doctors saw only 30 or 40 patients on their last visit. He estimates the number of surgeries has dropped from about 100 a year to 20. ...

For years, Mexicans simply showed the border patrol a letter from Shriners explaining they were traveling for medical care as the Hernandez family did on its first trip to Salt Lake City. Now under tightened border security, they need passports and visas. At $600 per person, most can't afford that documentation.

"In order to keep this clinic running, it has become much more expensive just to provide care for the kids," Santora said. "We've always paid for plane tickets, but this is kind of an extra fee that we're trying manage."

Santora has contacted politicians in Utah and Texas, as well as consulates in the United States and Mexico, in hopes of relaxing the rules for travel to Shriners. "Everybody says we'll figure it out, but no one has stepped up to say we can either do it this way or that way," he said. "They won't give them a humanitarian pass to get through."

The hospital's Juarez Travel Fund covers travel costs, but due to the economic downturn, it is becoming depleted. Santora hopes a fundraiser he put together featuring his '70s music rock band The Wilson Project will generate about $50,000 to bring 30 children and a parent to Salt Lake City. He plays mandolin and guitar."
For individuals unable to attend the fundraising event on Jully 30, you can also make a donation to "Shriners Children's Transportation Fund."

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