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Burned Toddler Flown to U.S. for Treatment

July 15, 2005

THE unexpected concern and generosityof complete strangers has helped get aseverely burned toddler from Costa Rica toa pediatric burn center in Galveston, in theU.S. state of Texas, where he is desperatelyfighting for his life.Some say it is a miracle two-and-a half-year-old Santos Bonilla is alive aftera ferocious fire caused by a butane explosionswept through his family’s south centralSan José apartment less than threeweeks ago. His mother, two siblings andtwo cousins escaped the fire with lesserinjuries, but Santos emerged with morethan 86% of his little body burned.Doctors say the appropriate facilitiesand equipment to treat Santos’ severe, life threateningburns are simply not availablein Costa Rica – or any of the surroundingLatin American countries.WITH this in mind, plastic surgeonRoberto Steele, one of the doctors whooversaw Santos’ treatment at the NationalChildren’s Hospital in San José, where hewas admitted after the fire, contacted fellowmembers of the charitable ShrinersClub in Costa Rica for help.The Shriners Club is a worldwide,500,000-member, 100-year-old fraternitythat has built and financially supports 22hospitals in North America that care forchildren with financial need.Dr. Steele told the Shriners Club hereabout Santos’ severe injuries and suggestedtransferring the young boy to theGalveston Shriners Hospital, which specializesin providing child burn victimswith acute, rehabilitative and reconstructivecare, free of charge.“THE possibility of his survival isvery low, anywhere in the world, except atthe Galveston Shriners Hospital, which isthe world’s best pediatric burn center,” Dr.Steele said.Dr. Carlos Siri, another doctor whocared for Santos at the Children’s Hospitalin San José, described the child’s conditionas “grave.” Many of his burns are thirddegree, and he left Costa Rica completelybandaged from head to foot.“He was in critical, but stable condition,”Dr. Siri said. “But if Santos hadstayed in Costa Rica, realistically, he wouldhave had a small chance of surviving.”Shriners Hospital agreed to admit him,but could not cover the cost of transportationfrom Costa Rica to Texas. An airambulance was needed to safely and quicklybring Santos, a guardian, a medical crewand equipment to Galveston, and wouldcost as much as $25,000.THEN another piece of the puzzle fellinto place. Franz Saalau, representative forCentral America of Evergreen Aviation, theworld’s largest privately owned aviationcompany, found out about the story fromthe news and decided he wanted to help.Saalau called Dan Nolan, the company’svice-president of marketing, to proposean air ambulance flight from San Joséto Galveston at a discount. Instead, Nolancalled Delford Smith, founder and ownerof Evergreen companies, whom Saalaudescribed as having “a really big heart.”Smith donated the use of a plane alongwith his own personal pilots, leaving theShriners Club of Costa Rica, which hadtaken on Santos’ cause, to pay only forfuel, landing fees and the necessary medicalequipment and crew.THANKS to help from Costa RicanImmigration officials and U.S. Embassystaff, Santos and his father were able to getpassports and visas to travel to the UnitedStates in a matter of days.Meanwhile, two Texas doctors and anurse volunteered as the on-flight medicalcrew and brought the necessary medicalequipment.The air ambulance left Costa Rica forGalveston July 8. Even the weather was onSantos’ side: Two hours prior to the airplane’sarrival, the airfield where theyanticipated landing had to close to arrivalsbecause of heavy rains, high winds andlightning. Fifteen minutes before the aircraft’slanding, the storm ended.“Someone is watching out for youngSantos Bonilla,” Nolan said in a statement.“THE whole thing just came together,”said Bill Schiller, U.S. citizen and secretaryof the Shriners Club in Costa Rica.Santos had his first surgery onSaturday. Angel Martínez, resource nurseat Shriners Hospital, told The Tico TimesSantos had his second surgery on Mondayfor treatment of burn wounds and skingraft placements. He remains in criticalcondition and “will probably require severalmore surgeries,” she said.Abou Saad Shrine in Panama City,Imperial Shrine in Tampa, Florida, theClub Activo 20-30 International and theShriners Club of Costa Rica have alldonated money, along with countless otherpeople.“We have been able to collect moneyfrom the outpouring of the people of CostaRica. Their generosity made this possible,”Schiller said.How to HelpSANTOS Bonilla’s father’s four- toeight-month stay in Texas while his sonis being treated will cost an estimated$8,000, according to Bill Schiller, secretaryof the Shriners Club in Costa Rica.Santos also will need to return toGalveston in the future for reconstructivesurgery.Donations can be deposited into thefollowing accounts: Asociación Pro-Ayuda Al Niño Quemado, Niño SantosBonilla, Banco Nacional de Costa Rica,Account Number: 108944-0 or BancoNacional de Costa Rica, Club Activo 20-30 Internacional Tres Ríos, accountnumber 100-01-095-000400-8 SantosBonilla.

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