Cuenca Expats Magazine – Issue 44

By Ashley Rogers
Photos courtesy of HKIE

It all started with a jar on a bar, according to Helping Kids in Ecuador’s co-founders, Tod and Mary Freeman. In 2011, in Salinas, Ecuador, a restaurateur was raising money for his employee’s 16-month-old girl, who was born without an anal track.

With no prior experience, the Freemans started a small fundraising campaign. “We made raffle tickets out of cut paper,” says Mary,

“and we, along with our co-founders, Peggy and Will Saunders, were able to get this child the surgery she needed. It was a great feeling and we decided, maybe, we can help some other kids.”

And, they did! From these humble beginnings, a miraculous organization, Helping Kids in Ecuador (HKIE), was born and to date more than 1,000 children have been helped.

HKIE is a US 501.c3 charity providing lifesaving and life-changing surgeries to underprivileged children throughout Ecuador. Surgeries range from heart defects, birth defects, cleft lip and web finger repairs to burn reconstruction and eye surgeries. They have also provided eye and leg prosthetics, wheelchairs, PT, leg braces, and temporary medicines.

In 2013, the Freemans moved to Cuenca and had a chance meeting with Dr. Pablo Salamea, of Hospital del Rio, asking to help a child get a cochlear implant. Dr. Pablo was smitten, and is currently the Foundation’s Medical Director.

Daniel, HKIE's first heart patient

“He’s the best thing that ever happened to us,” according to Tod. “He’s personally donated his time for more than 200 surgeries, rallied other doctors to also donate their time (including his brothers Rafael, an anesthesiologist and Juan Carlos, a trauma surgeon). He also encouraged the administrators of Hospital del Rio to give us discounts. Without these surgeons and anesthesiologists donating their skill and time, HKIE would not be the success it is.”

This trifecta of amazing doctors, hospitals and HKIE donors has, indeed, made this impossible mission exceed expectations.

Not only have they helped 1,000 kids but HKIE is now also working with Hospital Metropolitano in Quito and Roberto Gilbert Hospital in Guayaquil.

One of HKIE’s most heart-wrenching and dramatic patients was Daniel, who was born with a heart defect. When HKIE learned of Daniel’s illness, he was 11 years old. His prognosis was that he would die within a couple of months.  HKIE intervened and today Daniel is 21 years old and is studying to be an engineer.

 “You can’t imagine the feeling we get when we’re able to help a child and his family live a normal, healthy life,” says Mary. “

And the parents can’t believe that strangers from another country are the ones who helped them. We will forever be grateful for Dr. Pablo, his team, the hospitals, and all the kind-hearted people who have given so generously over the years. It is the ultimate honor and it’s an honor we all share.”

Daniel is now 19 and is studying to be an engineer thanks to HKIE

For more information on HKIE or to donate to this charity, go to helpingkidsinecuador.org.

For updates on children, see Helping Kids in Ecuador on Facebook.