Dimitri Romero transforms personal pain into powerful philanthropy
By Priyanka Sinha
Photography by Sonya Revell
tarting with open-heart surgery a week after he was born, 16-year-old Dimitri Romero has seen more physicians, visited more emergency rooms, and experienced more medical interventions than anyone should at such a young age. But rather than allow a debilitating illness to overtake his will to live a meaningful life, Dimitri has been channeling his energies into health solutions through the power of grassroots giving.
Since the age of 7, Dimitri, a junior at Spanish River High School in Boca Raton, Florida, has raised more than $20,000 through different events to support those experiencing severe medical conditions.
“I know what it’s like to be in pain, to have to constantly get tested, try different treatments and wait in waiting rooms,” said Dimitri. “It makes me happy to know I can do something for those who suffer like I have and help others get the relief they need.”
Born with a congenital birth defect, Dimitri has endured a barrage of medical procedures: Open-heart surgery corrected the transposition of the aorta and artery that was blocking blood flow to his brain, and four major surgical procedures addressed a complete unilateral cleft lip and palate.
These procedures require monthly checkups to ensure that everything associated with the congenital deformity, from speech to eyesight, is monitored. “Dimitri has shown nothing but courage through his years of suffering,” said his mother, Nagina Romero. “He has endured acute pain with grace and perseverance and deep compassion for others who suffer from similar medical conditions.”
In August 2019, Dimitri’s life was disrupted again by chronic abdominal pain, the cause of which went undetermined until he met Miguel Saps, M.D., chief of the Miller School of Medicine’s Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition in the Department of Pediatrics.
“Dr. Saps is such a kind person,” said Dimitri. “He listens. He really cares for his patients.”
Dimitri set up a crowdfunding campaign for the Pediatric GI Research Fund at UHealth – the University of Miami Health System to advance the Miller School’s research in abdominal medical conditions. Three months into the campaign, Dimitri reached his goal of $5,000 and is now close to a new goal of $15,000.
“Dimitri is a shining example of what a single individual can do to make a lasting impact,” said Dr. Saps, who holds the George E. Batchelor Endowed Chair in Pediatrics at the Miller School of Medicine. “To have such courage and compassion in one so young, coupled with a desire to help others, is a true gift.”
Dimitri’s generosity goes beyond fundraising. He also volunteers for several food banks and clothing drives, helping families facing economic hardship get back on their feet. His spirited involvement in collecting and distributing essential items has generated an exchange of kindness, with a community of supporters in these nonprofits who are also committed to Dimitri’s personal cause.
“While I’m motivated to set up fundraising events on my own, they’re only successful with help from others,” said Dimitri. “I want others who are struggling to know that you can make a difference. Even when things seem too hard, you have to have hope, you have to believe in yourself and the difference you make for others. Don’t ever give up.”
To donate to Dimitri’s UCARE page, visit miami.edu/ChildGIResearch