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Westfield Resident Mary Ryan Opens Both Her Home and Heart To Help Heal Disadvantaged Children in Nuturing Environment By DEBORAH MADISON
Specially Written for The Westfield Leader and The Times
WESTFIELD — Jennelis Montero, a sevenmonthold baby boy from the Dominican Republic arrived on May 10 at JFK International Airport, without his parents and desperately in need of medical care. Mary Ryan, a lifelong Westfield resident, was waiting at the airport to pick Jennelis up.
Although they had never met, Mrs. Ryan became the boy’s surrogate mother for the next several months while he underwent medical treatments for an inoperable tumor.
This family arrangement was made possible through an organization called Healing the Children (HTC). Based in Butler, Healing the Children provides transportation, treatment options and host families for children from all over the world, in need of medical care.
With chapters throughout Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey, HTC provides sick children with medical care that is usually not available in their home countries.
Working with clinics all over the world, Healing the Children has brought thousands of children to medical facilities in the United States. The organization is all volunteer and relies on donations from
doctors, hospitals and airlines, as well as businesses, civic organizations and individuals for funds.
A crucial part of making this international program a success are the various host families that care for the children.
HTC has approximately 35 host families in New Jersey. The host families are responsible for meeting the children at the airport, providing a warm and nurturing home, and then getting the children to their medical appointments and surgeries.
The Ryans have hosted six children, including Jennelis, from many different countries over the past eight years.
“There is a great difference in the medical care options available in the United States as opposed to countries such as the Dominican Republic or Guatemala,” Mrs. Ryan noted.
Some of the care that Mrs. Ryan gives the children involves administering medicine or changing bandages, but for the most part, Mrs. Ryan explained, it’s just tender loving care. Their medical conditions vary from simple plastic surgery to very complex and lifethreatening illnesses that may need extensive treatments, or numerous surgeries.
Over the years, when Mrs. Ryan has told her family about another
child in need of a host family, her husband, John, and her three sons, Timothy, 20, Brenden, 17, and Jason, 14, have been very supportive and excited about another arrival.
“Having these children is a great opportunity for our own family to grow in awareness to the needs of others and to reach out to fill those needs,” Mrs. Ryan stated.
“They all pitch in to help care for the children that visit us,” she added.
No stranger to hardships, Mrs. Ryan lost her eyesight 15 years ago and is now completely blind. However, she does not allow that to be an obstacle in caring for all of the children who need her help.
“Blindness is a lack of sight, not a lack of vision,” Mrs. Ryan remarked.
“My vision includes what I can do for others,” she said.
Although Mrs. Ryan has training as a physical therapist, she said that most host families do not have a background in the medical field nor do they need any special medical degrees.
What is important for a host family to understand, Mrs. Ryan noted, is that the children often arrive scared and usually unable to speak English. And, frequently, there is no way to contact their families, who may live in remote areas where there are no phones or adequate mail deliveries.
“Giving comfort to the child is a very important part of their recovery,” Mrs. Ryan noted.
HTC also helps American families by donating medical equipment and pharmaceuticals, transportation funds, medical treatment and financial assistance to families with large medical bills.
And, HTC organizes medical trips of teams of doctors and surgeons to foreign countries that lack the necessary medical facilities. Medical trips have been organized to the Dominican Republic, Kenya, Panama, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Columbia and Morocco. These trips often include eye screening tests and dental clinics for hundreds of children as well as numerous surgical procedures.
Mrs. Ryan also shared that “the people of Westfield, friends and strangers alike, have opened their hearts and arms to Jennelis. We count on this response,” she added.
Jennelis’s medical condition will be carefully monitored by HTC even after he returns to the Dominican Republic and his prognosis is for a complete recovery by the time he is five years old.
The Ryans also work with another organization, Project Children, which rescues children from wartorn Northern Ireland, who are in need of medical care. Some of these children have been the victims of car bombings and have lost limbs or have been severely injured by bombs in other ways.
“Many of those children come to the United States and are able to relax and play, without fear, for the first time in their lives,” Mrs. Ryan observed.
For more information about HTC, please call (973) 8387114.
Cheri Rogowsky for The Westfield Leader and The Times HEAL THE CHILDREN JOY… Mary Ryan and her son, Jason, of Westfield, enjoy a moment with Jennelis Montero. Jennelis, a sevenmonthold boy from the Dominican Republic, is a participant in the Heal the Children program for children who need surgery and other medical attention.
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