The reality of poor prenatal resources and specialized care is far too real for many children in Cd. Juarez, according to 'Dar Sin Fronteras' or 'Borderless Giving,' a non-profit UMC Foundation program.
The program was born out of the need to unite children of Mexican nationality, who have specific orthopedic conditions, like club hand and foot, web hand and foot, or hip dysplasia, with doctors in the U.S. who can help them.
"It was originally in response to the children here on the border that really don’t have access to some of the specialty care that is available at El Paso Children’s Hospital,” says El Paso Children's Foundation Executive Director Dennece Knight.
Knight says the border between El Paso, Texas and Cd. Juarez, Chihuahua is an invisible line because the children who need help are just a few miles away. "A sick kid is a sick kid is a sick kid, they need that kind of support," says Knight.
The program is relatively new, having been run for about four to five years. "The first year was really a lot of the legalities involved in being able to establish it and operating on both sides of the border," says Knight.
Antonia Aranda is just one of the 70-children who have been helped by Borderless Giving. The eight year old comes from humble beginnings and has been raised by her grandpa Manuel Lopez, since her mother was 14-years old when she had Antonia and her twin sister Amy.
“The other day I made my bed all by myself, it was ugly, but yeah," says Aranda, who was born without arms, but does just what any typical kid would do. "I draw, I color, I do my homework and I play," says Aranda.
Aranda's grandpa says she suffered a stroke a few years back and was given very little chances of surviving.
He says that was something the family never saw coming. “We didn’t know anything, in reality when they did the sonogram, everything looked normal," says Lopez. "Had we known she was going to be born like this, well we would have known, but we had no idea. It just happened like that.”
However, Aranda knew no different. She would use her feet to write and eat her dinner, so living without arms wasn't the problem; it was the border that existed between her and the help she needed.
But the Borderless Giving program changed that for Aranda. Once a year, nurses and doctors from Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center of El Paso, volunteer to be part of a day-clinic in Juarez where they evalate candidates.
"When we have the selected 20-kids, we help them with the process to come to Texas Tech and to have their first evaluation," says Fundacion UMC Mexico Director Margarita Enriquez.
It was through these annual clinics that Aranda met Dr. Amr Abdelgawad, an orthopedic surgeon at TTUHSC.
"There are always some patients that are like landmarks and I think Antonia [Aranda] is one of them," says Dr. Abdelgawad.
According to Dr. Abdelgawad, Aranda's case was risky due to her abnormal leg growth, which was affecting her hip and spine. Surgery to her legs meant there was a chance of hip displacement.
"Her legs are her everything. Her legs and her hands," says Dr. Abdelgawad. The procedure would include lengthening Aranda's shortest leg, which is the same leg Aranda would use to do pretty much everything.
"I was extra cautious with her," says Dr. Abdelgawad. "I saw her three times because I really wanted to know if the family wanted to go through the risks or not.”
He says it took some convincing for him to finally move forward with the surgery and it wasn't until he got Aranda's consent that he performed the surgery.
"Not every child will decide what she decided, to do surgery, even after I told the family all the risks which are really scary," says Dr. Abdelgawad.
Aranda says she agreed to the surgery because it would put her one step closer to her dream of being a dancer.
"She told me, Margarita, if I learned one time to write and do this, I can do it again," says Enriquez, who would accompany Aranda and her grandpa to their doctor's visits in El Paso.
"We applied the frame, the external fixator, basically pins in the lower part of the femur and then there is a connecting bar beside the body," explains Dr. Abdelgawad, who says the lengthening process had to be done slower than normal.
“I wasn’t scared," says Aranda. "I was only thanking God because before, I could not walk well.” And just like promised, after her surgery, Aranda eventually learned how to write again, this time with her left foot. Providing written proof to her doctor through a letter that reads: "Thank you for my surgery. I will never forget you, this surgery changed my life forever. Thank you God Bless, Antonia.”
The Borderless Giving program is run solely on donations from donors who want their money to go specifically towards this purpose. If you would like to donate and help children like Aranda, or for more information you can visit the El Paso Children's Foundation here.