3rd Annual Special Needs Week

Special needs patients from impoverished communities are in critical need of good dental care; without it, their quality of life is greatly diminished or even at risk. Because of this amazing specialty team, they’re receiving it!

An impressive amount of care was provided during the Third Annual Special Needs week at the SPEAR Open Wide Peronia clinic recently. Together we served 196 special care patients and provided a total of 1,317 procedures over the five clinic days. Most of the patients came from orphanages or group homes and traveled by bus, car or on foot to get to the clinic; each one needing special accommodations due to mental or physical disabilities such as autism, hemophilia, downs syndrome and cerebral palsy.

But…more impressive the the amount of services provided was the connection with the local staff, volunteer team, the care givers and the patients. An encouraging part was that, for many of the patients, it was the third time to visit the clinic so their mouths were healthier this year and they recognized the doctors and gave and received hugs. It became apparent that what Dr. Schaffer had hoped for when we started the program had become a reality for these patients…“We want them to know that the Open Wide clinic is their dental home. ~Dr. Rebecca Schaffer

One of the biggest challenges of special needs care is pulling together the accommodations for the patients such as medicine, general anesthesia for patients who wouldn’t be able to sit through the procedure without it, papoose boards to provide stability and safety for those who needed it and many other specialty items. Hours of coordination prior to the trip by the clinic staff ensured that the week would run as smoothly as possible.

By the end of the week the generous volunteers and committed clinic staff were exhausted but also inspired and gratified for having the experience. They are already looking forward to next year for the 4th Annual Special Needs Week!

Our Open Wide team for the week included Dr. Rebecca Schaffer from AT Still University, Drs. Jeff Hicks and Vidal Balderas from University of Texas San Antonio, Dr. Frank Romano Vice-Chairman Department of Dentistry Danbury Hospital Connecticut, Dr. Rebeka Andrade and advanced dentistry residents Drs. Al-Mojel, Fort, Morten and Quintana, and nurses Susan Gassiot and Laura Williamson (Dr. Hick’s sisters) joined the local clinical staff, dental residents from Guatemalan Mariano Galvez University, municipal and medical support staff.

We would like to give abundant thanks to the volunteer Dental Specialists and Donors, Specialty Residents. We would also like to extend our gratitude to the County of Villa Nueva and First Lady of Villa Nueva’s office, and the Villa Nueva Department of Health for their commitment to making this year’s special needs week a tremendous success and supporting the year-round services for special needs patients at the Peronia Clinic.

History of the “Special Needs Initiative”

Four years ago, Dr. Rebecca Schaffer approached our table at the SPEAR Faculty Summit and she asked if we would be willing to treat special needs patients at the model clinic in Peronia. Yes was my immediate response, and we set out to start planning. Dr. Jeff Hicks got involved and over the last few years it has built into a very impactful program that is growing its reach to the most vulnerable populations in Guatemala.

Before the “Special Care Dentistry Initiative”, the ability of special care patients to receive dental care was so low that not one of the patients we saw in 2014 had ever seen a dentist. With a much higher cost of care, and no public clinics for this vulnerable population, other basic needs and medical care always came first.

Explore more details of this growing program:

2014 Overview         2015 Overview

2014 PHOTOS         2015 PHOTOS