VIDEO: Chicago organization repairing deformities, changing childrens’ lives

By Julie Woon

Kassy Preciado is resting in an extended stay hotel as she begins to heal. Last week, she underwent the final surgery in a three-step process to have a large birthmark removed at Comer’s Children’s Hospital at the University of Chicago.

The five-year-old patient had an unsightly birthmark, known as a congenital pigmented nevus, which covered almost the entire length of her right arm.

“It was a black birth mark with a lot of hair. It looked like a monkey and was bad looking,” Preciado said.

The surgeries, performed over the course of several months, as well as all of Preciado’s traveling and medical expenses, were paid for by the Fresh Start Caring for Kids Foundation.

Fresh Start Surgical Gifts was founded in the 1980s by the late Dr. Dennis Nigro; a cosmetic surgeon, who was working pro bono to help children with physical deformities. By 1991, his philanthropic efforts had caught on and the foundation was created. Through a partnership between Fresh Start Surgical Gifts in San Diego, California and the Plastic Surgery Foundation, Fresh Start Caring for Kids opened at Comer’s Children’s Hospital in Chicago and started operating in June.

“The mission of Fresh Start Caring for Kids Foundation is to provide no-cost surgeries to disadvantaged children who have deformities as a result of birth defect, accident, injury or abuse,” said Utica Gray, the Chicago Regional Director for the foundation.

Kassy Preciado, 5, shows off birth mark and skin expander during the first stage of the surgical process. Courtesy of the Fresh Start Caring for Kids Program.
Kassy Preciado, 5, shows off her birthmark and skin expander during the first stage of the surgical process. Courtesy of the Fresh Start Caring for Kids Program.

These no-cost surgeries are funded solely through donations, one hundred percent of which are given directly to the patient’s expenses. Absolutely no costs are passed on to patients’ families, most of whom are chosen based on financial need, and would not be able to afford the surgeries without the help of the foundation.

“What Fresh Start does is really take care of the patient that fall within the cracks between the system,” said Dr. David Song, the Chief of Plastic Surgery at the University of Chicago Medicine.

Many of the conditions that the plastic surgeons treat are not covered by insurance because they are considered to be cosmetic surgery. However, Dr. Song says there is a difference.

“Cosmetic surgery is enhancing the normal,” he said. “What we are doing is life-changing operations that are life-giving. We are taking a congenital deformity or a birth defect or a trauma and repairing that.”

Many times for the patients, the results of these surgeries are not just physical, but there are mental and emotional results as well. Children with deformities are often the targets of bullying, which can have an effect on their self-esteem. But by receiving these surgeries, they have an easier time fitting in and a chance at a normal life.

Fresh Start Caring for Kids holds three surgery weekends a year and aims to help at least 20 children during that time.

For those interested in volunteering or applying for the program, applications are available in Spanish and English on the foundation’s website,



In Chicago, watch Medill Reports video stories on CAN-TV channel 27