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Police Defense Foundation chief on mission to Dominican Republic to save tot’s sight

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot File Photo
Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot

SHOUT OUT: A highly-decorated former federal agent who once smashed international drug cartels is headed to the Dominican Republic tomorrow to help a 13-month-old blind girl and her mother get emergency U.S. visas so that the tot can have surgery in Manhattan that may give her sight.

Joseph Occhipinti, executive director of the National Police Defense Foundation, has run several mercy missions to other countries. Once again, he will rely on Brian Campolattaro, a pediatric ophthalmologist who has done such surgeries for free at the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary on 14th Street in Manhattan.

Scarling Cabrera – known as “Baby Scarling” — has been legally blind since birth. Campolattaro has scheduled surgery for Sept. 18.

Occhipinto has a visa appointment scheduled for and her mother at the American Consulate in Santo Domingo on Wednesday, Occhipinti told CLIFFVIEW PILOT .

“Despite the security concerns of September 11, and heightened security at consulates worldwide, I will present Baby Scarling to consular officials in hopes they approve the visas,” he said.

The mission is part of “Operation Kids,” a child safety initiative of the National Police Defense Foundation that has made surgery possible for critically and severely handicapped children worldwide.

Occhipini said he learned of Baby Scarling while on a March mission to the Dominican Republic with Campolattaro.

The surgeon was unable to help her there, Occhipinti said, but believes he can successfully complete the work  in the U.S.

The NPDF “agreed to secure the necessary visas and fund the entire cost of travel, lodging and related expenses,” Occhipinti said.

He, Baby Scarling and her mother are due to reach Newark International Airport on Friday. Occhipinti said they will be met by various law enforcement officers and officials from, among other agencies, the New Jersey State Police, Port Authority Police of New York and New Jersey, and the Newark Police Department “who will provide a courtesy VIP escort to the Ronald McDonald House in New York City.”

The NPDF is primarily dedicated to providing medical and legal support services to law enforcement officers in a dozen countries, including Ecuador.

But it also operates “Operation Kids,” which distributes free fingerprint kits to parents, posts rewards for missing children and runs the medical-care missions.

“We’ll fly anywhere in the world for a critically ill baby for a life-saving operation,” Occhipinti said.

Corporate sponsorships and other benefactors help fund operations for the 501(c)(3) non-profit foundation, which is a CLIFFVIEW PILOT sponsor ( SEE: National Police Defense Foundation ).

Occhipinti said 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,” he said.

It’s only fitting that a police-related organization does this work, Occhipinti said.

After all, he said, “police have always had a special love for protecting children.”

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