The "little purple lump" appeared in front of Angela Huerta's left ear about six months ago, surprising the 9-year-old girl and worrying her mother. The freckle-sized cyst ached and interfered with her school work.
"It hurt," said Angela, who discovered the growth while scratching her head one day at her East Los Angeles elementary school. "It distracted me."
On Saturday, Angela will have the cyst removed free of charge thanks to a partnership between Cedars-Sinai and Mending Kids International, a Burbank nonprofit organization that sends medical teams around the world to perform surgeries for children whose families can't afford such medical care or do not have access to it.
During the "Hometown Mission," Cedars-Sinai surgical teams will remove cysts and other growths from some children, while, in other cases, performing reconstructive surgeries involving ears, eyelids, hands or other body parts. Although Mending Kids International has been sponsoring medical missions around the world for nearly eight years, the day of outpatient surgery at Cedars-Sinai is the organization's first in the U.S.
In addition to children from the Los Angeles area who will receive free surgical care, youngsters from El Salvador, Guatemala, Kenya, Ethiopia and other countries will join the Los Angeles mission, undergoing surgeries to treat deformed feet, burns and other medical problems.
All travel and medical costs for the 18 young patients undergoing surgical procedures are being covered by Cedars-Sinai and Mending Kids International. Eight Cedars-Sinai surgeons are volunteering their time to care for the children.
"We hope this 'hometown' medical mission will be a transformative experience, not only for the children but for the physicians and staff as well," said Andrew L. Freedman, MD, vice chair of Pediatric Surgical Services and director of Pediatric Urology, who is leading the effort for Cedars-Sinai. "This mission has the potential to enlighten and inspire everyone involved."
Mending Kids International said the Los Angeles mission is particularly gratifying because it provides an opportunity to help local children.
Since the organization was founded in 2006, Mending Kids International has funded travel and other expenses for more than 100 children around the world who come to Cedars-Sinai to receive vital care that's often unavailable in their own countries. In total, Mending Kids has teamed with doctors and volunteers around the globe to provide more than 1,000 surgeries in 48 countries.
"For years MKI has traveled afar taking care of surgical needs for children in remote areas, but some children here in our community are being overlooked," said executive director Marchelle L. Sellers. "Our volunteer surgeons, the same who travel with us on overseas missions, are volunteering their time once again to make certain children here get the exceptional care they need and are given a chance to live a life without constant teasing and shame. Simple surgeries will give them the confidence and self-esteem they need."
Several of the young patients in the Los Angeles mission were referred by their pediatricians. That was the case for Angela, whose surgery comes at a special moment - one day before her 10th birthday. She plans to celebrate on Sunday with her family and closest friends during a birthday party at home that will feature her mother's beloved posole soup, tostados, carrot cupcakes and soda.
The surgery is an unexpected gift for mother and daughter alike.
"I told Angela, 'Happy birthday. It's an early present,'" Yolanda Hermosillo said of the procedure.
Hermosillo said she worries about the cyst's effect of her daughter, a top student whose ear aches when she wakes in the morning and when her hair is combed. Hermosillo said she's thankful for the opportunity to have the cyst removed before it grows larger. Then Angela can get back to the things she loves most - writing stories about princesses and vampires, and drawing pictures of pandas, roses and Sponge Bob.
"I feel honored to be helped by these doctors," Hermosillo said. "You never imagine seeing one of your children going through this. I'm very thankful."