A different way to help

The International Children's Program clinic offers free physical therapy to Mexican children who often have serious orthopedic problems.

March 27, 2014|By Jennifer Lane
  • Mary Eimers, a Huntington Beach resident and physical therapist at UCLA Medical Center, Santa Monica, has been participating in the International Children's Program for three years, helping children in Mexico get the help they need but cannot afford.
Mary Eimers, a Huntington Beach resident and physical… (SCOTT SMELTZER,…)

Nine times a year, Mexican families with children in need of physical therapy travel to the International Children's Program clinic at the California border for the chance to have their child treated free of charge by the doctors there.

For three years, Mary Eimers, a Huntington Beach resident and physical therapist at UCLA Medical Center in Santa Monica, has also been traveling to the clinic to give children the help they need but often cannot afford.

"We see the craziest stuff, not like, 'Oh, I broke my arm.' It's like, 'Oh, I was run over by a tractor,'" she said.

Eimers and other doctors treat patients ranging in age from infancy to 21 years old for a variety of orthopedic problems including limb deficiency, scoliosis and cerebral palsy.

"The clinic is just a doctor's office, and if the children need surgery or consultation about a specialist, we offer transportation up to Los Angeles so they can be seen by a doctor at UCLA," Eimers said.


Physicians at the Orthopaedic Institute for Children in Los Angeles started the program in 1961, according to Lorena Gomez, assistant coordinator of the International Children's Program. It is mainly funded by donors.

Out of the nine times a year the program goes to the Mexican border, six of them are to Calexico and the other three are overnight visits just over the border in Mexicali.

Gomez said the service that Eimers provides is incredibly important to the program.

"We are always seeking volunteers and we love when Mary goes down there because physical therapy is rare in Mexico, and when it is present it is very expensive," she said.

Gomez said the program helps about 1,000 children per year and enables 40 to 50 surgeries in Los Angeles.

The program also helps the families obtain visas and entry permits for the surgeries.

"If a child has to have surgery, they have to arrive at our Calexico clinic by 4:30 a.m., which means if they live near the border, they usually need to leave their houses around 2 a.m. in order to get to the border and get through it," she said.

Sometimes, even with permits, they don't get to cross at all.

"It is all up to the officer's discretion whether or not they will let the families cross," Gomez said.

Eimers, who became interested in physical therapy after a soccer incident when she was young, said she loves her work at UCLA Medical Center but always wanted to give back in other ways.

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