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Police Defense Foundation chief on mission in Ecuador to save teen’s sight

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot
Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot

SPECIAL REPORT: Joseph Occhipinti is in the middle of one of the riskiest missions of his career, having arrived this weekend in Ecuador in hopes of bringing a teen shot in the head to the U.S. for surgery to remove a bullet lodged in her brain and, hopefully, restore her sight.

Joseph Occhipinti with Marivel in Ecuador

“I have concerns,” Occhipinti told CLIFFVIEW PILOT before flying out to the unstable country Saturday night. “I’m not exaggerating when I say that I’m a threat to be kidnapped because of my ties to law enforcement.”

UPDATE (Feb. 18) : NPDF Executive Director Joseph Occhipinti announced today that he secured a humanitarian visa for a girl in need of surgery to remove a bullet lodged in her head and her father from U.S. Consul General Francisco Fernandez in Guayaquil, Ecuador.

Occhipinti, the founder o f the National Police Defense Foundation, took on the mercy mission after being asked by Ecuadorian Congresswoman Blanca Ortiz, whom he met at a conference at the Ecuadorian Consulate in Newark.

Occhipinti has already pulled off several similar missions, bringing children and police from poor countries here, where doctors and hospitals have donated their services.

This time, Dr. Brian Capolattaro, a pediatric ophthalmologist, will operate for free on 16-year-old Gladys Marivel Pomavilla Loja at the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary on 14th Street in Manhattan .

NOTE: Occhipinto said on Saturday, Feb. 18, that they are due back with Marivel and her father Sunday night, with a medical evaluation set for Monday to determine “if surgery is feasible” to remove the bullet and help restore her sight.

Ortiz said Marivel’s 9-year-old brother accidently shot her in the back of her head, where the bullet lodged, blinding her.

“Ecuadorian physicians lack the resources and surgical expertise to remove the bullet that will save her life and restore her sight,” she said.

So she turned to Occhipinti.

The retired federal agent had to use all the pull and contacts he has in order to secure temporary non-immigrant visas for Marivel and her father to come to the United States, where they will live for two months at a Freehold hotel that offered to put them up.

“Gladys Pomavilla lives in poverty along with her parents, eight siblings and is supported by her father, who earns $375 per month,” Occhipinti said.

Occhipinti said he and an associate had to make their way from the capital of Quito through the Andes Mountains to get there.

But he took inspiration with him:

Lillian Pravda – all of 12 years old – created the Vision For and From Children Foundation four 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 infirmary — and pushed for the operation that is expected to help Maribel.

Occhipinti, a highly-decorated former federal agent who once smashed international drug cartels, helps provide medical and legal support services to law enforcement officers in a dozen countries as part of the NPDF’s work.

He also heads worldwide mercy missions under an offshoot program known as “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 ).

Late year, 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.

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 had discussions with state officials in Ecuador to secure the visas, which turned into a three-day process.

The majority of the NPDF’s mercy missions have been to Ecuador, whose tense relations with the U.S. were further strained 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.”

The NPDF has created a medical fund for Marivel. Tax-deductible donations can be made online ( ), by calling 877-325-KIDS or by mailing a check to:

P.O. Box 318
Englishtown, NJ  07726

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