SPECIAL REPORT: Joe Occhipinti is back in action, working to bring an Ecuadoran teen to the U.S. for surgery that he hopes will remove a bullet lodged in her brain and restore her eyesight.
Lives joined by generosity
And the founder o f the National Police Defense Foundation is taking inspiration with him from an amazing young girl.
Lillian Pravda – all of 12 years old – created the Vision For and From Children Foundation three years ago, after cataract surgery restored sight to her left eye.
Her group has helped thousands of youngsters and their parents through visits and gifts aimed at reassuring everyone involved that everything, as Lillian says, “will be just fine.”
Lillian has also raised tens of thousands of dollars for the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary, where she secured a promise from her surgeon, Dr. Brian Capolattaro, to operate for free on now-16-year-old Maribel Pomavilla.
The trick is getting Maribel from there to here and back again.
That’s where Joe Occhipinti comes in.
The highly-decorated former federal agent, who once smashed international drug cartels, not only helps provide medical and legal support services to law enforcement officers in a dozen countries: He also heads worldwide mercy missions under “Operation Kids.”
Prominent officials in the U.S. and around the world have praised the humanitarian program, which distributes free fingerprint kits to parents, posts rewards for missing children and runs the medical-care missions around the globe. Corporate sponsorships and other benefactors help fund operations for the 501(c)(3) non-profit foundation ( SEE: National Police Defense Foundation ).
Just two months ago, Occhipinti was honored at the Ecuadoran consulate in Manhattan for bringing critically ill infants to the U.S. for life-saving surgeries Soon after, he learned of Maribel’s plight.
Now he is headed back to Ecuador to help make another miracle.
VIDEO: CBS 2 REPORT by CHRISTINE SLOANE (BELOW)
Under Ecuadoran law, Maribel needs permission of both parents to obtain a visa. But she lives with her father and stepmother, and her mother apparently can’t be found.
So Occhipinti has been in discussions with state officials in Ecuador “to do whatever we can to secure an immediate visa for her and her father.”
“Time is of the essence,” he said.
The majority of the NPDF’s mercy missions have been to Ecuador, whose tense relations with the U.S. were further strained earlier last year when WikiLeaks published a diplomatic cable alleging widespread police corruption under President Rafael Correa.
Ecuador asked the American ambassador who wrote the cable to leave, and the U.S. responded by declaring the Ecuadoran ambassador persona non grata.
Correa has close ties to his powerful counterpart in oil-rich Venezuela, Hugo Chávez, a man the U.S. views as a threat to stability in the region.
Against this backdrop, Occhipinti – who lives in Manalapan – has worked with Ecuadoran Consul Jorge López Amaya to protect the Latin American country’s nationals throughout the world.
Occhipinti told CLIFFVIEW PILOT that he remains dedicated to helping low-income families from other countries obtain instant “humanitarian visas” so they can receive the medical immediate medical care “necessary to save their lives.”
He considers himself blessed by “the good will of the hospitals, doctors and donors” who have footed the bill for the missions, the treatment and other expenses.
This “gives each one of these children a chance to enjoy a normal life,” Occhipinti said. “It’s just the right thing to do.”
And as far as he’s concerned, it’s only fitting that a police-related organization is doing it.
After all, Occhipinti said, “police have always had a special love for protecting children.”
Click here to sign up for Daily Voice's free daily emails and news alerts.