Whether it’s treating those in need from their local community through the Donated Dental Services (DDS) program, volunteering time in inner city and rural clinics, participating on international mission teams, or serving in other ways, many dentists freely give of their time to provide oral health care for those who can least afford it. I have been affiliated with The Pankey Institute for the past 18 years, and one of the things I have observed is the large number of Institute participants and faculty who are involved in such activities. Not only are they donating dental services in their communities, but also all over the world … in Honduras, Mexico, Belarus, Thailand, Brazil, Uganda, Jamaica, The Dominican Republic … and the list goes on. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons I have felt so at home in their company.
Giving back to others is part and parcel of being a happy professional with a balanced life. It’s how we get a better perspective on others’ lives and our own. Through service, we learn to appreciate what we have been given and what we can do to improve the lives of others.
My personal “journey” in volunteering has been with a group of Pankey dentists from Dallas, who started an organization called ServingHIM (Health International Ministries). ServingHIM is a nondenominational Christian organization with the mission of sending medical/dental teams and humanitarian aid worldwide, improving health-care-related educational services and facilities, partnering with other organizations to increase its impact, and providing an outreach opportunity to share the gospel of Jesus Christ. For me, it has been a life-changing experience. It is exciting to be part of a large group from all over the United States who come together to serve and make a difference in the lives of others.
Since 1998, Dr. Kevin Seidler, who has attended The Pankey Institute, and Dr. David Hildebrand, a Pankey Institute visiting faculty member, have been taking dentists and support teams to Braila, Romania, every summer as part of ServingHIM. My first trip was in 2003. I participated with my husband, Dr. Denny Byrne (also a dentist) and our daughter, Devon, who is a predental/religion major at Baylor University. We learned as much as we could so that we could lead a group from Maryland in 2004.
This past July, we took a group consisting of two dentists (ourselves), a senior dental student, four hygienists, and five others (an elementary school vice principal, three teenagers, and an accountant) who helped with the educational aspects of the mission. We were joined by a Romanian dentist, Dr. Andreea Gheta, with whom we had become friends the previous summer. Together, we were able to treat 250 patients in four days.
Many ask, “Why do you go to Romania when there is so much need here?” I serve needs here at home, but I feel “called” to serve in Romania. It has been my experience that each of us is drawn to a particular mission or set of volunteer opportunities. The need in Romania is very large. What’s more, here at home I find myself so caught up in day-to-day activities that I don’t stop to reflect upon the “miracles” that occur. When I am away from home, I am more aware of the transformations taking place in people’s lives and the impact I can have.
Under Communist rule, Romanian churches and their leaders suffered immense persecution from 1974 to 1989. Much of the Romanian population (23 million) grew up during a period when churches were underground and medical and dental services barely existed. Because of the hope and prayers of a Romanian pastor, Ioseph Stefanuti, many Romanians were inspired to rebuild churches and serve their communities. His vision to take care of the physical and spiritual needs of the people of Romania is becoming a reality with the help of churches in America, ServingHIM, and the Evergreen Educational Foundation, Inc.
Currently, ServingHIM dental teams serve in the Diaconia Medical Clinic, a small, nonprofit, Christian medical facility with a laboratory for blood tests and a pharmacy. Included are preventive, diagnostic, therapeutic, and affordable medical care, with the goal of combining efficiency with harmony and respect. Clinical Director Dora Ciuca and the head physician, Dr. Doina Dorobantu, are generous to shut down the medical services off and on throughout the summer so dental mission teams can come in to meet dental needs. ServingHIM has provided three operative chairs and two surgery chairs for the clinic. When our team arrives, we set up a hygiene area with two lawn chairs and a portable unit. Romanians from the church who speak English - mainly high school-age students - volunteer their time to work alongside us as interpreters.
I imagine the amount of dental disease present in Romania is comparable to what dentists in the United States faced in the 1950s. Decay and gum disease are rampant. In the clinic, we do not have the use of X-rays; however, decay is so common that it is not difficult to determine the needs. The new clinic will be equipped with X-rays. One of my personal goals is to obtain donations of fluoride tablets to give to the children of the orphanage on a daily basis and to start a fluoride program in the public school system.
Last summer, four teams - from Texas, Alabama, Maryland, and South Dakota - went to Braila. Next summer we hope to have eight teams. I will be taking a team in June 2005, which will include my husband and three children, Devon, Jed, and Lucy.
Other woman dentists from the United States have been on ServingHIM teams over the past four years. These include: Dr. Jan Balsiger of Dallas; Dr. Dana Radu-Scafaru of Sun City, Ariz.; Dr. Susan Snyder of Lafayette, Ind.; and Dr. Pam Nicora of Spokane, Wash.
Many ask, “What can I do?” Join a team, or contact various dental companies for donations of supplies and equipment. We are in need of handpieces, restorative material, portable X-ray units, and fluoride. Sullivan-Schein Dental has been a generous contributor. The Dallas Sullivan-Shein representative participated on one of the 2003 mission teams and was able to bring along a lot of supplies from different manufacturers. Financial donations also are welcome to complete the new medical-dental clinic. Donations may be sent to ServingHIM, P.O. Box 794151, Dallas, TX. Visit www.servinghim.org for more information.
Fundraising to support our mission trips has not been difficult. In my case, I offer patients the opportunity to have their teeth bleached and then write their check to ServingHIM instead of me. I donate the bleaching materials, but I know of other dentists who have had corporate sponsors donate the materials. My church, the Bay Area Community Church in Annapolis, Md., and many of the visiting faculty of The Pankey Institute and other Pankey colleagues have made donations. My chiropractor, Dr. Kibby, was so inspired that he and his patients collected 1,000 Beanie Babies™ for us to take to Romania for the children. (If you undertake dental mission work, you likely will find that many of your professional friends and patients will be happy to provide helpful donations.) For information about ways you can get involved with ServingHIM, you may contact me personally at [email protected] or ServingHIM at [email protected].
The rewards for volunteering go beyond a thank you or a smile; they go deep to the heart. It can only be named love. Love pours back to you from those you help and, in turn, you have more love to share. Mission work has become a central part of my life vision. The experience is something I can easily share with the patients and team members in my dental practice. From this involvement, we all grow. Dr. L.D. Pankey summed it up well when he said that we should want our patients to pay us with gratitude and appreciation. The gratitude and appreciation we receive from the clinic’s patients far outweigh any money they could pay us.
Nancy A. Ward, DDS, MAGD
Dr. Ward practices with her husband, Denison Byrne, DDS, MAGD, in Baltimore, Md. They have three children, Devon, Jed, and Lucy Byrne. Dr. Ward is a visiting faculty member and a board member of The Pankey Institute. She is a past president of both the Baltimore and Maryland Academy of General Dentistry. Contact Dr. Ward at wardbyrne@ aol.com.