Fresh Start provides new beginning for area children

Photo By Kristen Luther
Dr. Jim Brantner is the organizer of Fresh Start of Tennessee, a Christian ministry that performs free reconstructive surgery for children in need.

By Greg Miller
star staff

  JOHNSON CITY -- Fresh Start of Tennessee, which provides free reconstructive surgery for children in need as a Christian ministry held a "surgery weekend" at the East Tennessee Ambulatory Surgery Center, 302 Wesley St., on Saturday.
  "We do free reconstructive surgeries, primarily on children, and it's on people who fall through the cracks in the system," said Dr. Jim Brantner, of East Tennessee Reconstructive Surgery, PC.
  "Anybody that comes in that we think is worthy of getting operated on and doesn't have the financial resources to do it, we will do it. It may take awhile to get them on the schedule, but we will get them there. We have no restrictions on how many we do," said Brantner.
  About 30-40 volunteers give their time to make each Fresh Start weekend a success. The volunteers include physicians, anesthetists and nursing staff in operating and recovery rooms. High school and college students stuff envelopes to send out information about the weekends.
  "It's kind of interesting to watch on a bright, sunny Saturday afternoon, where people are off and they are in here working for nothing, and they all have smiles on their faces," Brantner said.
  The Fresh Start surgeries are held on a Saturday about every 6 to 8 weeks. "We try to get from 5 to 8 surgical weekends per year," Brantner said. "And if we have more kids come in, we just do an extra weekend.
  "I started this organization as a Christian ministry," Brantner said. Brantner's unofficial motto is taken from part of Matthew 25:40, "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
  "I find it hard to think of anyone who qualifies more as 'the least of these' than an underprivileged kid with a physical deformity," Brantner said. "To me, this is a Christian witness that we can give to people where it's not just telling them but showing them what God's love is about.
  "We try to have pastors here on the surgical weekends to talk to talk to families ... Hopefully, we can not just make a change for a kid's lifetime, but we can maybe change a family forever.
  "The surgery is the vehicle, but the real mission in our minds is that this is an evangelistic outreach," Brantner said. "We want to witness to the families. We want to witness to the kids, and we want to do it with actions."
  Brantner said he is elated when he sees a positive difference made in the life of a child. He recalls the case of a little girl who had a cleft lip. "When we first met her, she wouldn't look at us or say a word," he said. "She was just a complete introvert. We've watched her over a three or four-year period do a complete personality reversal. As we've operated on her a number of times, she has become more and more outgoing, and she's a very pretty little girl and is just blossoming. It really is cool to see that happen.
  "That's the whole point of the term 'fresh start.' You take a kid with some sort of a deformity that's holding them down, and you fix that. You give them a fresh start, and they start over.
  "I'm sure that some kids don't have a big change, but I think most of the kids that we see do a complete changeover in their whole attitude, their self-image, their approach to the world. It's neat to see."
  Since the first Fresh Start surgery was performed in 1998, about 100 surgeries have been performed, with a monetary value of more than $750,000.
  For more information, call 282-3476 or visit