I really didn’t see it coming. I knew that I wanted to be there for this year’s Special Care Week in the SPEAR Open Wide Peronia Clinic – I knew it because the year before I had spent time with Drs. Rebecca Schaffer and Jeff Hicks the weekend after the first special care week and was drawn in by their stories and experiences. I needed to be there next year, I told myself.
So I was. But still, I didn’t see it coming.
In Guatemala, most people with special needs are not afforded the opportunity of receiving dental care…Ever. Many are in orphanages where basic medical care is a stretch so dental care is far down the list of services provided. So when our volunteer dentists, along with Charity Crawford and myself arrived on Monday, September 7th, the waiting room was packed with patients and caregivers.
An impressive amount of care was provided Monday – Friday of that week. Between our Open Wide team including: Dr. Rebecca Schaffer from AT Still University, Dr. Jeff Hicks from University of Texas San Antonio, Dr. Frank Romano Vice-chairman Department of Dentistry Danbury Hospital Connecticut and Drs. Andrade, Dix and Williams all U.S. advanced dentistry residents joining the local clinical staff and the Guatemalan Mariano Galvez University dental residents, we served 158 special care patients and provided a total of 758 procedures. Most of the patients came from orphanages or group homes and traveled by bus, car or on foot to get to the clinic.
Pretty amazing. And an encouraging part was that, for many of the patients, it was the second time to visit the clinic and their mouths were healthier this year and they recognized the doctors and gave and received hugs. It became apparent that what Dr. Schaffer kept saying all week was a reality for these patients…
“We want them to know that the Open Wide clinic is their dental home.”
~Dr. Rebecca Schaffer
All of this I expected because I know the Open Wide vision, to bring sustainable dental care to those who need it most desperately, because I know the doctors who are so committed to this vision that they will take a week away from busy practices and lives to give back, and because I know that the need is so great, and no more so than with patients with special needs.
But…it was the connection I felt with the patients that caught me off guard. Once I stepped into their presence, they were no longer a group of “patients with special needs” but people with names and faces. They were no longer just special care cases with Cerebral Palsy, Down Syndrome. Autism, Microcephaly, Bipolar, Spinal Bifida or Epilepsy. They were individuals with a history, with needs, with the ability to feel pain and joy. They smile, they cry, and they respond to love. They – Alejandro, Fredy, Israel, Liseth, Jose, Gustavo, Wilmer, Rene, Ana Ruth and Cindy Paoola de Leon and many, many more were so much like me. I was deeply moved by all of them and I would have to admit, changed.
So, yes, I didn’t see it coming…And yes, I’ll be there next year.