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Steamboat’s Lupori family dedicates late daughter’s fund to medical missions

Sisters Caroline Lupori (left) and Ellese Lupori pose with a patient and his family post surgery during a 2019 medical mission trip to central Mexico.
John Lupori/Courtesy photo

Steamboat Springs native Caroline Lupori was only 8 years old when she first accompanied her older sister and physician father on a medical mission trip to central Mexico to help children affected by cleft lip and palate birth defects.

“She was amazed at the clef palate disease and how it affected the kids, that they had difficulty eating and speaking,” said Dr. John Lupori, Caroline’s father, an oral and facial surgeon who retired from his local practice in 2018 but still performs trauma surgeries at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center.

Following Caroline’s death while backcountry skiing in Montana last November, her family established the Caroline Mary Lupori Memorial Fund through Yampa Valley Community Foundation to support causes and organizations important to Caroline. Still working through their grief, the family recently decided to dedicate the memorial fund to help local students interested in medicine to join a mission trip, such as the surgical trips to Mexico. Those experiences for students who are juniors in high school or older will start in early 2022.



John has volunteered with a medical clinic based in Monterrey, Mexico, called Clinica de Labio y Paladar Hendido, for 20 years. The COVID-19 pandemic had halted the trips since March 2020, but Lupori’s first post-pandemic trip to Cordova, Mexico, is scheduled for Nov. 13 to 20.

Caroline and her older sister, Ellese, who now attends medical school in Oregon, joined the mission trips a half dozen times through the years. The mission serves the indigenous population in the mountains of Mexico, south of Mexico City.



“Caroline helped with giving children food and toys, helped mothers with children before and after surgery, helped in the clinic as an assistant getting supplies ready for medical teams and helped with photos,” her father remembered. “She thought all the people, including the doctors, from Mexico were the most dedicated people, and she was amazed how these people contributed and got together to do these missions.

“She had a better appreciation of what other people have to go through around the world, and it made her feel good to be part of it. I know she would want to keep that going,” he said.

Ellese, 23, said she remembers the smiles that her younger sister brought to the patients she interacted with in Mexico.

“She had such a big heart for young children. She was always like a kid herself, literally and eternally,” Ellese said. “I think she made a lasting impression on them and their families beyond the medical aspect.”

The rate of cleft lip and palate disorder in Mexico is more than twice the rate in the U.S., John said, and the resources in Mexico for the important surgeries are far fewer. The birth defect is caused by an interaction of genetic and environmental factors.

During some 35 mission trips through the years along with other surgeons, John has helped repair birth defects for hundreds of infants and young children. He said the surgeries are technically difficult, challenging and rewarding, as surgeons can repair patients’ birth defects and improve their lives immediately.

Longtime Steamboat Springs oral and facial surgeon Dr. John Lupori poses post surgery with a patient and local surgeon Dr. Teresa Coronado in 2019 during a medical mission to central Mexico.
Courtesy photo

According to the Mayo Clinic, cleft lip and cleft palate are openings or splits in the upper lip, the roof of the mouth or both. Cleft lip and cleft palate result when facial structures that are developing in an unborn baby do not close completely.

An adventurous athlete and artist, Caroline was a sophomore studying elementary education at Montana State University when she died in a skiing accident in the backcountry near Bozeman. Less than a month before the anniversary of Caroline’s death, her father said her family wants to remember Caroline and thank the community.

Ellese, (from left) John and Caroline Lupori from Steamboat Springs on a medical mission trip to Mexico in 2019.
Courtesy photo

“I would like people to know our family is very grateful for all the support this community has given us throughout the years we have lived here, for the great support when Caroline passed away and great support they gave for her cause,” John said.

People who would wish to support the medical mission to Mexico can contribute to the private nonprofit foundation Claypa-Los Cabos. Donations go directly to transportation, housing, feeding and medical supplies needed for patients and their families.

Contributions to the Caroline Mary Lupori Memorial Fund to support local students interested in going on a medical mission may be made through the Yampa Valley Community Foundation.


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