Autism knows no geographical boundaries, so in honor of World Autism Awareness Day, I decide to head south of the border instead of attending awareness events in the United States. When I arrive in Puerto Vallarta, Bryan McAllister is waiting for me at the airport. I have come to spend a week with Kerri Rivera, director of the AutismO2 clinic, the only place in Mexico that offers biomedical and behavioral treatment – and hope – to Mexican families impacted by autism.

Bryan is a nurse who specializes in ozone therapy and he works at the clinic. I ask him how he met Kerri. “On ebay. Her husband Memo was looking to buy a vintage Desoto car and I was selling one. Memo wanted it to use for parts for a 1951 Desoto limo they own,” he explains. Somehow, Kerri and Bryan got talking about the clinic she and Memo were starting up, and Kerri convinced him to move down here.

That’s how movers and shakers like Kerri are – persuasive and inspiring and able to convince people to share their vision. In Kerri’s case, the vision was that of a not-for-profit clinic funded by money paid by those who could afford Hyperbaric chamber treatments, thus offsetting the costs of autism treatments for those who could not.

Two years later, the afore-mentioned vintage Desoto is still sitting at the border, waiting to be shipped and for all the necessary import/ export paperwork to be filled out. But Bryan is here and the AutismO2 clinic is up and running – some things just can’t wait. Like most non-profit autism organizations, a child was the inspiration behind the vision Kerri had. In this case the force is Patrick, Memo and Kerri’s youngest son, who regressed after receiving the DPT,HepB, infB vaccine (5 shots in one) at two years of age. Patrick, now 8 years old has benefited greatly from different types of biomedical treatments, as well as behavior therapy.

Mexico has been Kerri’s home for 14 years now, ever since she created a family here with her Mexican husband Memo. When Kerri first met her husband when she came here to study Spanish, little did she know that they were destined to be married years later, and eventually become a driving force in the Spanish- speaking autism community.

After their son Patrick was diagnosed with autism, Kerri began to look into treatments and realized she would have to travel often to the United States if her son was going to recover or improve. Kerri realized that nothing was available in Mexico, and wanted to bring help and hope to the many families impacted by autism who could not afford the treatments, and who had no access to resources in the United States. In January 2006, Kerri met with Dr. Bernard Rimland, founder of the Autism Research Institute in San Diego (the border town I live in) and long considered the godfather of the movement for understanding the biological treatment of autism. With his blessing Kerri and Memo had the Defeat Autism Now (biomedical treatment) protocol translated from English into Spanish. Two weeks after Dr. Rimland passed away, the clinic AutismO2 was opened. “Nothing we do on a daily basis here at the clinic to help families impacted by autism would ever have happened without Bernie Rimland,” Kerri tells me.

Kerri, inspired by Dr. Rimland, became proactive when her son was diagnosed, becoming both a Rescue Angel for Generation Rescue, Jenny McCarthy’s autism organization, and a mentor to mothers of newly diagnosed children for Talk About Curing Autism (TACA). Kerri continues to provide information and help to people all over the world in both Spanish and English in those capacities. But she and Memo wanted to do more. In 2006, Kerri and Memo founded Bebepingo AC, the non-profit structure that funds the AutismO2 clinic, by buying a hyperbaric chamber that people here in Puerto Vallarta use for a variety of health reasons – for Multiple Sclerosis, Cerebral Palsy, Down’s Syndrome, autism, arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis infections, and diabetes to name a few. Proceeds from the treatments in the chamber go towards helping the children with autism from low-income families that they treat at the clinic. Besides the chamber, the clinic offers behavioral therapy, nutritional and supplement consulting, and information on the Defeat Autism Now (DAN!) biomedical protocol, as well as IV chelation, and ozone therapy provided by Bryan, who has worked with ozone treatment for 17 years. The AutismO2 clinic is the only clinic of its kind in Mexico, a country with no practicing DAN! Biomedical doctor or behavioral therapy clinic.

In Mexico, “hope” is not a word usually associated with autism, as there is very little on offer for children who have autism. Hope, however, is apparent not only in abundance at the AutismO2 clinic, but also in Kerri and Memo’s home. Parents and the children who have traveled great distances to receive treatment, drop in to discuss nutritional support with Kerri, share the midday meal, or just to say “hola.” Besides Patrick, Kerri and Memo have an older son, Alex as well as three dogs and 3 cats that add much warmth to this already nurturing home. While I’m there, I meet Luis Cisneros and his 5 year old daughter, Diana, who has Down’s Syndrome has begun to talk after 10 hyperbaric treatments and change in her diet as well as nutritional supplements. I also meet Dr. Edith Vela, who runs a small ABA program for her son and three other children in her living room because there are no schools willing or able to teach them in Mexico. Edith’s son, Alex, has also responded well to treatments; this is his second stay in Puerto Vallarta to access the services at the clinic AutismO2. While we are eating lunch and visitors drop in, Memo explains his reason for donating so much of the family’s time, money and energy to AutismO2. “It is a wonderful thing to see children getting better. How could I not help these people when I see how much of a difference it is making in their lives, in my son’s life?”

The day I leave, Kerri drives me to the airport. She slows down as we pass a Holiday Inn. “There, near the flags in front of that hotel is where I met Memo for the first time. I was waiting for some college friends to play tennis, and he was meeting up with some friends as well,” she explains, smiling and enjoying the memory.

What a fortuitous day that was for Mexican families impacted by autism.

This first appeared on the April 27, 2009