Charity Surgery: Read the History of Fresh Start Surgical Gifts


Fresh Start’s founder, the late Dr. Dennis Nigro, a renowned San Diego plastic surgeon, traveled to remote areas to provide reconstructive surgeries at the beginning of his career. While abroad, he witnessed sub-optimal operating rooms and procedures, so in the late 1980’s he began to bring children with physical deformities from around the world and the local community to his own office in San Diego to receive a higher level of long-term care. Dr. Nigro recognized that there was a whole population of people, especially children, who suffered from correctable conditions but could not afford the medical attention they needed.

In 1991, Dr. Nigro founded and incorporated Fresh Start Surgical Gifts – a non profit organization providing charity surgery for children – with the majority of care still provided within his own office but with more of a focus on local, San Diego children. In 2001, Fresh Start received a large gift in support of its mission – from this, we established a separate Foundation, the Fresh Start Surgical Gifts Foundation, that provides at least 4% of its invested funds each year to support overhead and administrative costs, allowing 100% of every donation to be designated towards the Medical Program and enabling Fresh Start to become a sustainable organization. After the large donation in 2001, Fresh Start began to expand, and, in 2009, opened the Fresh Start Clinic at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego, which allowed us to treat complex conditions, provide care more frequently, and reduce high rental costs for operating room space.

Most recently, in 2010, Fresh Start began a brand new collaboration with the Plastic Surgery Foundation to expand Fresh Start nationally. Since its inception in February, 2014, Fresh Start Caring for Kids Foundations has successfully hosted numerous Surgery Weekends at the University of Chicago Medical Center. The gradual expansion of Fresh Start nationwide has allowed Fresh Start to focus more of our resources and time on our local patient base within San Diego and Imperial Counties. Over the coming years, Fresh Start’s goal is to dramatically increase our local patient base within San Diego and the surrounding areas, as the new branches begin to accept more international and national cases within their own communities.

Since Fresh Start’s inception, over 7,000 children have received no-cost charity surgery & medical care valued at over $33,000,000 and Fresh Start’s volunteer base is about 500 annually. Check out some patient highlights and reconstructive surgery stories.


In 1992, Fresh Start was recognized as a “Point of Light” by President Bush and President Clinton presented Fresh Start with the Volunteer Action Award in 1993. More recently, in 2009, Fresh Start was a San Diego Business Journal (SDBJ) Healthcare Champion honoree and opened the Fresh Start Clinic at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego. In 2011, as one of the top children’s nonprofit organizations, Fresh Start was named Best Local Nonprofit by Ranch and Coast Magazine, was nominated for a Classy Award for Best Charity of the Year, and was Healthcare Champion by SDBJ. In 2012 Shari Brasher, Fresh Start’s CEO and Executive Director, was a finalist for the World of Children Health Award and for the SDBJ Most Admired CEO Award. Fresh Start also maintains a record of financial stability and accountability – in 2008, Fresh Start was the only nonprofit to receive the Better Business Bureau’s Torch Award for Excellence in Marketplace Ethics and Fresh Start also meets the 20 Standards for Charity Accountability, as decided by the BBB. Most recently, Fresh Start received the Community Partnership Award presented by Mutual of America. Today, thanks to the Fresh Start Surgical Gifts foundation which was started in 2006, 100% of contributions go directly to medical programs.

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