Shriners shine with care of baby burn victim

Gabby Willett at Shriners Hospital in Cincinnati, Oh. / KHQA file photo

Don TMt let Gabby Willett TMs sweet little face fool you. This child suffers. Gabby faces years of surgery and therapy, and she TMll get the help she needs at the hands of doctors at Shriners Hospital in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Gabby TMs story started in the Philippines last December when she pulled a pot of boiling oil on herself. You can read about her extensive injuries and grueling treatment here . After weeks of red tape, her father, Hannibal native Beau Willett, was able to get her out of the country and into Shriners. Doctors there are reconstructing this horribly burned baby, and giving her a chance at normal life.

She TMs going to be our Shriner TMs child until she TMs 18, says J.R. Latta of Hannibal. He served as the local contact to help get Gabby into the burn unit at Shriners.

Once you TMre treated at Shriners, you truly are welcomed into the fold. People ask me if I have children. I don TMt have children, I have hundreds of kids, he said.

Latta is the regional director of public relations for the Shriners organization in seven states. This is a man who is passionate about his work.

I get a little emotional, he said as he choked back tears. It TMs hard to describe. We give children their lives back.

Certainly Gabby has benefited from excellent care. Her prognosis wasn TMt good at all as she languished in a shabby hospital in the Philippines. Today, she TMs getting some of the best care the world has to offer. In fact, it TMs the same hospital that developed advancements like skin grafting to treat burns.

The 22 Shriners Hospitals in the U.S. have long been known for their standard of care"but the best known attribute: it TMs free. Correct that. It was free. These days, there is no financial obligation to parents or caregivers, but the hospital now bills the insurance company. It TMs hard to believe with years of skyrocketing medical costs that the Shriners have just now had to resort to billing. It TMs a result of declining membership in Shrine clubs and dwindling donations.

It TMs something we do from our heart, Latta said. He spends a majority of his retirement years visiting Shriners Hospitals and the affiliated Masonic Temples.

One other thing Shriners are famous for. Fez. You know, those flower-pot shaped maroon caps with the dangling tassels. And were can you find fez? Just go to a parade. That TMs where you TMll see Shriners zipping around in circles and figure 8 TMs in tiny little cars. Gotta love those guys! Some of them will do as many as 150 parades a year. When you give them a wave at your next parade, remember these fellows are promoting a cause that will forever change the lives of people like little Gabby Willett.

Take care ~Sarah