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Features

Climbing For A Cause

While some kids raise money for good causes with bake sales and car washes, Andrew Jacono plans to climb Tanzania’s Mt. Kilimanjaro.

“I’d like to get sponsors, but it also would be great for people to pledge, say, a tenth of a cent for every foot of elevation I climb up the 19,341-foot mountain,” the Manhasset High School sophomore said of the adventure, slated for this coming July, hoping for nearly $20 from everyone who makes that pledge.

The cause is as unusual as his fund-raiser: T.H.A.I. (Through Healing All Indigent) Children Missions, which specializes in treating children in Third World nations with cleft lip and palate deformities. And it truly is his cause—Andrew founded the non-profit organization in 2011.

 “For years I have known what a serious problem cleft lip and palate deformities can be,” the 15-year-old said. “And many children, especially in poor areas of the world, never get the surgery they need to repair this birth defect and live a normal life.”

Such knowledge comes almost naturally to him. After all, his father, Andrew Jacono, M.D. FACS, is a world-renowned plastic surgeon.

“I am so proud of Andrew for the compassion, initiative and resourcefulness he has shown,” said Dr. Jacono. Andrew and his two siblings, 14-year-old Arianna and Gavin, 7, all attend Manhasset schools. He credits his son with masterminding and executing every aspect of the project. “He’s a good kid. I remember him always wanting to help those in need. Even from the time he was in grade school he told me he wanted to make a difference in the lives of the poor around the world and in this country. Now he has done just that.”

In early 2012, the T.H.A.I. Children Missions got off to an ambitious start with a trip to northeast Thailand, where about 50 surgeries were performed. Not only were faces with cleft lips and palate deformities reconstructed, but facial burns and congenital tumors were also handled.

“The joy that it brings to these children and their parents is so wonderful to see,” said Andrew. “For the first time, so many of these kids can eat, drink, breathe and even smile normally.”

“It’s very moving,” his father added.

Next came a late-October/early-November mission to Santa Marta, Colombia, where more than 60 children were helped by the Jaconos and a 28-person team of physicians, nurses and technicians who came from all over the Northeast. Two plastic surgeons trained by Dr. Jacono, Evan Ransom, M.D., and Joe Rousso, M.D., were part of the surgical team as well as Kevin Glassman, M.D., an anesthesiologist who owns General Anesthesia Services, a company providing anesthesia medical care on the North Shore.

So far, Dr. Jacono has performed the surgeries, while Andrew has helped secure funds, equipment and supplies for the operations.

“That’s where all of the money goes — for facilities, equipment and surgical supplies,” said Andrew, pointing out that both he and his father pay all of their own expenses, such as airfare and hotels. In fact, on the organization’s website, www.thaichildrenmissions.com, donations are tied to what each amount of money will buy — “Disposable Supplies for Smile Correction $10,” “Surgical Blades for Smile Correction $25,” right up to “One Complete Surgical Smile Correction $500.”

The $10,000 raised so far has come from donations and various efforts by Andrew, such as selling bracelets and T-shirts with the organization’s name at venues around Manhasset.

The Mt. Kilimanjaro project, however, takes the fundraising to, well, new heights.

“With T.H.A.I. Children Missions we want to help individual children on a grand scale,” Andrew said. “And I believe it’s important to raise money with something just as big. As I see it, climbing the mountain is a lot like what we’re trying to achieve with the organization — reach a lofty goal that requires endurance and perseverance to achieve.”

He hopes the money raised will fund a mission early next year to Quito, Ecuador.

He expects the climb to take anywhere from six to eight days, and he plans to document the journey in photos and videos. He is currently training for the climb and high altitude by building his cardiovascular endurance.

Andrew points out that this Tanzanian climb is solely to raise money, not spend it.

“None of the money raised will go for travel expenses or the gear needed for the climb,” he said. “Every penny will go to the surgeries to change the lives of these children and their families.”