San Diego Business Journal

Seven years in the making and millions of donation dollars later, a nonprofit provider of free reconstructive surgery to disadvantaged children and young adults has established a home inside Rady Children's Hospital.

Fresh Start Surgical Gifts unveiled its 22-room, 7,800-square-foot clinic Sept. 9. It planned to host its first surgical weekend Sept. 12 and 13.

The clinic serves as a starting point for patients from around the world, who are seeking medical help for physical deformities caused by birth defects, accidents, abuse or disease.

A team of volunteer medical specialists and craniofacial surgeons from Fresh Start and Rady provide free surgery, dental care, laser treatments and speech clinics to children and young adults who qualify.

Most of those eligible to receive the services either qualify for government assistance or have insurance but cannot afford the costs of a major surgery, according to Fresh Start CEO Shari Brasher.

The Carlsbad-based nonprofit, which began in 2001, was funded by $20 million in gifts from the estate of the late Jeanne Cox Brady, an artist who passed away the same year.

In 2005, Fresh Start launched a foundation to help raise funds for its services. Brasher said Fresh Start draws 4 percent from the foundation a year to help cover its overhead and provide free medical care.

Cooperative Arrangement

Rady offers Fresh Start free rent, access to its operating room and discounted medical supplies, according to Brasher.

Fresh Start agreed to fund up to $1.5 million in improvements and equipment at Rady, according to its financial statements.

Although Fresh Start regularly coordinates care with local health centers, it lacked a permanent home.

"We wanted to be aligned with a strong group that would be able to provide services to children that we have been (providing) for a long time," Brasher said.

The idea of providing medical care free of charge to those most in need originated from Fresh Start founder and Encinitas plastic surgeon Dennis Nigro, who died of cancer in July.

"It was his life's vision," Brasher said. "He had this idea of a great center where kids could come from all over the world for good care."

Dr. Steven Cohen, a La Jolla plastic surgeon who operates at Rady, said he and Nigro approached the hospital board with the idea.

More than half of the children who seek care at Rady are uninsured, something Cohen said fit naturally with the idea.

"This, I think, is potentially a great public service model," Cohen said. "You're bringing in kids who have no access."