Open Wide Foundation sponsored their first Special Needs Week in the Peronia clinic September 22 -25. A team of U.S. & Canadian specialist volunteers treated 87 patients performing 351 procedures; each one needing special accommodations due to their severe mental or physical disabilities such as autism, hemophilia, downs syndrome and cerebral palsy.
Special needs patients from impoverished communities are in critical of need of good dental care; without it, their quality of life is greatly diminished and or even at risk. With so many challenges they face already, it’s sad to think that poor dental health has to be part of them.
Dr. Rebecca Schaffer, a special needs dentist and instructor at A.T. Still Dental School in Mesa, Arizona recognized the tremendous gap in the ability to bring care to special needs patients from impoverished communities but had not found a platform that would support this type of mission effort internationally. Her discovery of the Open Wide Foundation filled the need and the planning began for the first trip to Guatemala in partnership with Open Wide.
The project’s success was due to the herculean efforts of a dedicated team of professionals including Charity Crawford Open Wide Executive director, Dr. Stephanie Lambour Clinic director of the Peronia Clinic, our North American dentist volunteers, and the Municipality of Villa Nueva. One of the biggest challenges was pulling together the accommodations for the patients such as medicine for the hemophiliacs, 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 that had to be purchased or donated to the clinic. Hours of coordination meetings were held prior to the trip both with the U.S. volunteers and the clinic staff to ensure that the week would run as smoothly as possible.
None of the patients who received treatment had ever seen a dentist. Most of them live in remote geographical areas, at home or in group-homes, with very little, if any, support from the outside. So, as one might imagine, coming to the dentist was uncomfortable if not terrifying for them. Knowing this, the staff reached out to each patient with love and understanding in an effort to make the experience feel as safe and non-threatening as possible.
There were heroes at every turn throughout the week. One standout was a Guatemalan nun, Etelvina Abrego, who houses and cares for 22 special needs people between the ages of 10-35. She does this 24 hours a day with no other support! She and her “family” were transported to the clinic on Tuesday morning and the patients waited for their turn for dental treatment under an awning provided by municipality of Villa Nueva. Striking to all, they had no wheelchairs, so our volunteers carried those who couldn’t walk to the dental chair when their turn came. The volunteers were happy to be able to do a check and cleaning on the Nun’s teeth as well.
Open Wide Foundation is gratified to impact the lives of these people. Beyond the dental care that will free them from pain, we hope that, even if only for a day, we were able to show them kindness and care.
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 2nd annual Special Needs Week!
Abundant thanks to the following volunteers for their tremendous commitment and tireless efforts in making the week a success:
Dr. Rebecca Schaffer – Phoenix, Arizona
Dr. Jeff Hicks – San Antonio, Texas
Dr. Jeff Barnes – Calgary, Canada
Dr. Ahmed Sabbah – San Antonio, Texas
Dr. Sarah Usher – Albuquerque, New Mexico
Dr. Denise Frances – San Diego, California