Fresh Start Surgical Gifts, a surgical nonprofit, offers free services to disfigured children in Inland Empire

It’s something every expecting parent likely wonders: Will they have a healthy child?

John Hurtado, of Apple Valley, was no exception.

“We were under the impression that everything was fine through the pregnancy,” he said.

But when his son Juan was born in 1994 with a cleft lip and palate, even though it’s not something that was life threatening, it was devastating to the family.

“We suffered a lot,” Hurtado said. “Me as a parent expecting my first kid, and I see him born with this formation of his face; I cried a lot. I feel it too now.”

But it wasn’t just his son’s self-esteem while growing up. Hurtado said his son was repeatedly bullied and called names.

“I was asking God to give me everything I needed to get my son back to normal,” he said.

Hurtado said his prayers were answered when a neighbor told him about a nonprofit organization called Fresh Start Surgical Gifts, a group of plastic surgeons who donate their services for children born with disfigurements that most insurance companies would deem cosmetic.

But the company said helping children like Hurtado is essential to their well-being.

“Kids that look different start skipping school,” said Michelle Pius, chief development officer of Fresh Start Surgical Gifts. “They don’t raise their hand because they don’t want the rest of the kids in the classroom looking at them. We all pray for a good hair day; these kids just want to go outside.”

A Fresh Start spokesperson said its overhead is covered by the Fresh Start Surgical Gifts Foundation, which allows 100 percent of every donation to fund the medical program. The organization said since its inception in 1991, over 7,700 children have received no-cost medical care valued at over $38 million, and Fresh Start’s volunteer base has grown to over 500.

Fresh Start is now expanding its footprint to cover the Inland Empire.

Since working with Fresh Start, Juan has received eight surgeries totaling close to $100,000. All of it was donated.

Juan said the organization has been life-changing.

“I was amazed, because it was a big difference. I was happy,” he said.

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