Cover Stories

Here to Heal: World Pediatric Project

This kind of travel needs a different sort of suitcase. This kind of trip isn’t about sun and sand, but often about life or death. Throughout the year, on their own time and armed with instruments and supplies, 46 teams of doctors and nurses board planes and head south to deliver world-class care to children who might not survive without it.

World Pediatric Project St. Louis (WPP) was founded in 2004 with the mission to link worldwide pediatric surgical, diagnostic and preventive resources to heal critically ill children in developing countries. Since then, thousands of children have been treated throughout the Caribbean and Central America. Sometimes, the mission focuses on correcting cleft lips and palates; sometimes, hearts and spines are repaired. “It simply depends on the country’s need,” says Kate Corbett, senior program director and founder of WPP St. Louis.

ofc_world-pediatric-project-12-21Eight partner countries receive WPP teams, and each provides operating rooms and machinery for procedures that can be as critical as open heart surgery. Corbett explains, however, that every surgical specialty can be addressed, from general surgery to ophthalmology and orthopedic procedures.

Sometimes, though, a country’s infrastructure is too frail to accommodate such treatments and it simply doesn’t have the facilities to support a delicate life-saving operation. In these cases, the WPP brings the child to the U.S. Of the nearly 100 brought to the U.S. each year, 50 are treated in St. Louis, either at SSM Health Cardinal Glennon, St. Louis Children’s, Mercy or Shriners hospitals.

The children come with a family member and rehabilitate here, usually staying at the West County Ronald McDonald House. Corbett says that for as long as it takes (anywhere from six weeks to six months) an army of volunteers takes care of the family as if it were its own. “We believe children heal better with caregivers by their side,” Corbett says, adding that WPP volunteers give 500 hours a month to the children in their care.

But it doesn’t stop there: WPP keeps track of its patients and their families both abroad and at home until the child turns 18. Year to year, follow-ups are made to ensure the children are on track to healthier futures.

WPP executive director Cindy Frank explains that all this is possible because of the in-kind donations from doctors, nurses, hospitals and suppliers. “World Pediatric Project mobilized more than $14 million in donated medical services from the medical community last year, which gave hundreds of children first-time access to critical care,” she says, adding that the nonprofit’s biggest annual fundraiser takes place Jan. 20. “It’s always bigger and better than years before,” Frank says of Treasures in Paradise, a one-of-a-kind auction of luxury vacations and wine at Old Warson Country Club. “All the vacations are donated, and many are from the beautiful countries where we provide care,” Frank explains. “It’s the hottest party in town.”

Pictured: Alejandro Zuniga Chavez and Nancy Palma Gutierrez with son Rodrigo from Honduras, and Sarah Ndibazza with daughter Julie Namanda from Uganda.

World Pediatric Project’s Treasures in Paradise takes place Jan. 20 at Old Warson Country Club. For more information and tickets, call 314.317.8809. Pictured on the cover: Treasures in Paradise chairs Debra and Tim Niemann with Rodrigo, 6 months old, from Honduras; Lee and Laurie Wielansky; Julie and Rusty Keeley with Juliet, 18 months, from Uganda. 

Cover design by Jon Fogel | Cover photo: Colin Miller of Strauss Peyton Photography