The History Behind Changing Lives

Ines Allen and her husband, Tracey, established IMAHelps in 2000 after Ines had spent nearly 20 years volunteering as a dental assistant and Spanish language interpreter for the Flying Samaritans, a similar non-profit, on dental missions throughout Baja California, Mexico.

While IMAHelps initially began as a family effort, drawing volunteers and financial support from both Ines and Tracey as well as their extended family, Ines has been the driving force behind the organization, which provides medical, dental, surgical and prosthetic care to people who suffer from the same kind of poverty Ines and her family endured when they lived in South America many years ago.

Ines was born and raised in Quito, Ecuador. But her family was poor and could not afford to take Ines’s older brother, Raul Gonzalez, to see a specialist when he developed heart problems as a young teenager. Raul died from heart problems at the age of 16 and his death traumatized Ines and her family so much that they immigrated to the United States when she was nine years old with the hope of escaping Ecuador’s poverty as well as the pain of Raul’s untimely death.

Ines and her siblings all pursued their US citizenship, university degrees, and developed careers in their adult lives that brought them into American middle class life. But Ines could never let go of the memories of growing up in poverty or the fact that poverty itself had prevented her family from providing Raul with medical care that could have saved his life.

Haunted by the pain and memories of growing up in Ecuadorian poverty, Ines came up with the idea of recruiting doctors, surgeons, dentists and other medical specialists to conduct medical missions to some of the most impoverished locations in Ecuador and, ultimately, around the world. She initially recruited volunteers through her contacts with the Flying Samaritans and her network grew by word of mouth. Ines and Tracey began to promote IMAHelps’ medical mission work in the press and in the medical community.

Headquartered in Rancho Mirage, California, the organization was originally called International Medical Alliance or IMA. The name was changed to IMAHelps in 2011 after Ines and Tracey discovered that two other humanitarian organizations were using variations of the same name. IMAHelps was incorporated in 2002, becoming a 501 (c) 3 mutual public benefit non-profit and a Board of Directors was established. Between 2000 and 2009, Ines and her IMAHelps volunteers organized annual medical missions targeting Ecuadorian cities, which included three missions to her hometown of Quito, followed by Salinas and Manta, in the Coastal areas, El Puyo, in the Amazon jungle, and the Andean mountain cities of Latacunga, Ambato, and Ibarra.

Ines and her IMAHelps team subsequently organized medical missions to some of the most impoverished cities in Central and South America and even Asia. These efforts included major medical missions to Nicaragua, including Somoto in 2010, Estelí in 2011, Jinotega in 2012, and Matagalpa in 2016. IMAHelps also organized major medical missions to Yushu, China in 2011, the Nangqian County of Qinhai Province on the Tibetan plateau in 2012, and Huinan in 2013, as well as Vivek Vihar Colony-Mainpuri, India, also in 2013. In addition to those areas, IMAHelps organized missions to Huacho, Perú in 2013, and to Zacatecoluca, El Salvador in 2014 and 2015. Working in collaboration with the Nicaraguan community in Los Angeles through various non-profit organizations, such as the “Nicaraguan Relief Society,” which provided fundraising support, IMAHelps also organized small surgical missions to Nicaragua, focusing on Juigalpa in 2013 and Jinotepe in 2014.

In addition to these international missions, IMAHelps also makes a local impact each year with IMAHelps volunteers working alongside Clínicas de Salud del Pueblo, Inc., Coachella Valley Medical Volunteers, Coachella Valley Unified School District, Los Médicos Voladores, and the Tzu Chi Foundation in their annual medical and dental missions to Thermal, in California’s Coachella Valley.

Read more about Ines Allen.

IMAHelps Founder and President Ines Allen chats with 62-year-old Jacinto Espinola during the organization’s 2017 mission to Itauguá, Paraguay. Mr. Espinola was the 100,000th patient treated by IMAHelps since the founding of the organization in 2000.

IMAHelps Founder and President Ines Allen chats with 62-year-old Jacinto Espinola during the organization’s 2017 mission to Itauguá, Paraguay. Mr. Espinola was the 100,000th patient treated by IMAHelps since the founding of the organization in 2000.

Felipe Mendoza Olavarrieta, Associate Consul General of the Consulate of Paraguay in Los Angeles, works closely with IMAHelps Founder and President Ines Allen and other volunteers to coordinate our missions in Paraguay.

Felipe Mendoza Olavarrieta, Associate Consul General of the Consulate of Paraguay in Los Angeles, works closely with IMAHelps Founder and President Ines Allen and other volunteers to coordinate our missions in Paraguay.


“From the moment we are born we need help to take the first step, until we walk, it becomes insignificant. For some the possibility of standing is a new beginning. . . When generosity transcends borders, we managed to change lives, and today we walk differently.”

— Paloma Segovia, Paraguay




Honorary Directors



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Most humanitarian organizations offer only one medical specialty. A typical IMAHelps medical mission offers as many as a dozen or more medical and surgical and dental specialties, including internal medicine, urology, pediatrics, gastroenterology, obstetrics and gynecology, general surgery, orthopedic surgery, maxillofacial and plastic surgery, general dentistry, endodontics, cardiology, vascular surgery, orthopedics, prosthetics, and physical therapy.


We Share Our Medical Knowledge and Donate Medical Equipment


IMAHelps volunteers often provide educational seminars for their host country colleagues. They also share best practices and donate medical equipment and supplies to the hospitals where IMAHelps medical missions take place.

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We Organize Short Missions With Volunteers of All Ages



IMAHelps medical missions are generally 10 days in length. They typically include seven days of medical mission work, two days of travel time, and one day of sightseeing after the mission work is completed. Because its medical missions never exceed 10 days, IMAHelps attracts volunteers of all ages, from young men and women fresh out of medical or dental school to doctors, surgeons and dentists who are at the height of their careers. This distinguishes IMAHelps from other groups such as Doctors Without Borders, which usually relies on retired doctors because of its six month commitment requirement for mission work.

While IMAHelps has new volunteers every year, the organization has cultivated a core group of volunteers who have developed close friendships with one another and participate in virtually every IMAHelps medical mission. These core volunteers work in every division, from surgery to dental, and have enabled IMAHelps to concentrate effective mission management procedures so that patients can be screened and evaluated, and be provided with medical, dental, and surgical services as quickly and efficiently as possible. These core volunteers also have the experience to help new volunteers familiarize themselves with medical mission work and become outstanding members of the IMAHelps team.

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IMAHelps delivers a far higher return on investment (ROI) than most non-profit medical humanitarian organizations. The reason is simple: IMAHelps has no paid staff and volunteers pay for their own flights, food and lodging while donating their time and medical expertise.

But while IMAHelps has no administrative overhead, the organization usually has to raise anywhere from $80,000 to $130,000 in donations each year to purchase and ship medicines and supplies as well as medical, dental and surgical equipment that has been donated to us.

IMAHelps also uses donations to help the costs of our volunteers’ in-country bus transportation, primarily to and from our hotel to the hospital where are conducting the mission.

Because IMAHelps medical missions include volunteers from virtually every medical specialty, we deliver an extremely high return on investment (ROI), ranging from $30 to more than $100 for every dollar we receive in donations.

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IMAHelps has helped over 100,000 patients since our first mission in 2000. Here are some highlights from our most impactful missions over the years. Move your cursor over each section for details.

Our Impact

Stories and Articles



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Meet 4 year old Mauricio. He's a gregarious fireball of a kid who has a congenital malformation that causes his left leg to bow severely. IMAHelps first met Mauricio in 2018 when his mom brought him to the mission in Luque, Paraguay. After examining him, Dr. Swenning determined that they wouldn't be able to operate; they hadn't brought the specialized implants that were required to straighten his severely bowed leg. So, Jennifer Padilla, 2019’s Mission Coordinator, delivered the difficult message to Mauricio's mom, "It wasn't going to be possible." His mom was disappointed but said that she, her husband, and her two boys would be back every day while we were there to ask again. They came back, every day, and Jennifer had to deliver the same disappointing answer, every time. But, mom's perseverance had made a lasting impression that would make dreams come true.

In 2019, IMAHelps returned to the same hospital, and Mauricio and his mom arrived on day two of the mission. This year, the orthopedic team had all the specialized tools, and Dr. Swenning and Dr. Pedraza straightened Mauricio's leg with a simple plate and screws. The day after his surgery, Mauricio was excited and ready to get moving again, so Gloria Reyes, IMAHelps' volunteer physical therapist, found some little crutches that fit this little guy and taught him how to use them. His excitement at being mobile again was infectious. The power of a mom's love, the humanitarian efforts of skilled volunteers, and the organization of IMAHelps has made it possible for Mauricio's dreams to come true.

Andres Galivan

This amazing little human is four year old Andres Galivan and he came to IMAHelps 2017 mission. He has apert syndrome which often is accompanied by Syndactyly, a fusing of the fingers and toes. While Andres’ mom knew we couldn't help with his other problems, she asked if we could please fix his fingers so he could play and write and hold things. She came on the second to last day of the 2017 mission and the surgical team wasn't able to fit him into the already overbooked schedule. Jennifer Padilla had to tell mom that we couldn't make it happen. She stayed all day that day and when she returned the next day, said that she was hoping and praying that the answer had changed.

This year, in 2019, she brought him back on day one of the mission. Dr. Tiner (#4, left) and Dr. Cosgrove (#3, left) and Samantha Hall, PA spent multiple hours in surgery, carefully separating Andres’ little fingers and grafting skin where needed. A day after surgery, Andres was all smiles, and his perseverant mama cried with gratitude at the freedom that IMAHelps just gave her son.



A Special Donation

Aimee, CPNP-AC (right), diagnosed this 10 year old with Muscular Dystrophy through a simple blood test. He had symptoms since the age of 5 and had gone undiagnosed. He lost his ability to walk and mom started to carry him, hoping that he would walk again. That won't be possible, but Jennifer Padilla (left) arranged for a donated wheelchair, so he will gain some independence and freedom.



For 67 years, Santos de Cruz Meza was the neighborhood pariah. Born with a cleft lip in a poor village in Nicaragua, her deformity worsened with age, twisting her nose while the top of her mouth produced a frightening jumble of rotting, unusable teeth.

“She wouldn’t dare go outside without a towel wrapped around her face,” said Guadalupe González Cruz, her 22-year-old daughter. “Everyone made fun of her.”


Moved by her suffering in 2010, IMAHelps volunteers removed Cruz’s teeth and shaved her maxilla so that she could be fitted with dentures. Then, they sewed her cleft lip shut, closing the fissure that had subjected her to nearly seven decades of torment and ridicule.

“The first thing I’m going to do when I get home,” Santos de Cruz Meza said after surgery, “is take a walk down the street, just like everybody else.”

Read more about Santos de Cruz Meza.

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Nataly Benevidez of Ecuador Gets A Hopeful Future

Nataly Benavidez was only 6 years old when fireworks exploded in her home in Ecuador and burned nearly half of her body, horribly scarring her arms, stomach, and legs. The accident was so devastating to Nataly’s self esteem that she became a depressed and reclusive child who never left her home.

IMAHelps volunteers changed Nataly’s outlook on life and gave her new hope for the future by performing a series of skin graft operations that have restored her movement so that she can play like a normal kid again.

Read more about Nataly.


Darwin Bolaños


Darwin Bolaños was a 35-year-old chauffeur in Ecuador when he lost both of his legs from the knee down in a traffic accident that devastated his family, particularly his 10-year-old daughter and six-year-old son.

“To see him go from being very healthy and fine one day to missing both legs the next was very hard,” said Anita Tello, Darwin’s wife. “It was very hard on our children, too. At first, they were just happy to see him alive. But after that, it was very hard on them. I had problems with my son in particular. It was very hard for him to accept the fact that he may not be able to play soccer and other games with his dad like the other kids could do with their dads.”

But Robert Openshaw, our prosthetist from San Bernardino, California, happened to have two prosthetic legs that fit Darwin perfectly, enabling him to begin walking on his own again.

”My children’s biggest dream is that their father come home today with both legs,” Tello said through tears of joy as Robert fitted her husband with his new legs. “It looks like their dream is going to come true.”

Read the full story.






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