Editorial: Haiti 2011

Editorial: Haiti 2011

William E. Stein, D.D.S.*:
“Tell me what you love, and I’ll tell you who you are.”      Haitian Proverb

Terry and I had another wonderful trip to Haiti. Once again this year we teamed up with our friend Dr. Kelly Maixner, a specialist in children’s dentistry from Big Lake, Alaska. Kelly  is a remarkable young man who will be completing in his second Iditarod sled dog race this March, 1,000 miles from start to fi nish. In more than one way, I get the shivers just  thinking about it. Kelly’s beautiful and gracious wife Margaret wasn’t able to join us this year because she is at home expecting the birth of their fi rst child, little Rosemary  Florence, on Christmas day. Terry and I were blessed to meet this special couple at Father Glenn Meaux’s mission in Kobonal, Haiti, last year. They are both devout Catholics and  truly live their faith. Kelly and Margaret were married last year on the Saturday before they left for Haiti. They spent their honeymoon caring for the poor. Margaret has previously  done missionary work in Mexico and Africa with the priests of Fr. Glenn’s Order; the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity. Another of Margaret’s many talents is being able  to whip up a scrumptious peach rum cake from just the ingredients scrounged from Fr. Glenn’s kitchen. 
 
Kelly grew up in North Dakota and played outside linebacker for Dickinson State. As he is a tall, rangy, and not particularly massive man, he was compared to Ted Hendricks  the  Hall of Fame linebacker for the Oakland raiders years ago. Ted was known as “The Mad Stork”. Kelly was named after him. Kelly calls his website madstorkennels.com. Check it out  and follow Kelly as he runs the race. Even now, Kelly fl ies from Alaska to North Dakota to donate his time caring for the kids on the local reservation. 
 
Deb Brady, one of our excellent dental assistants, volunteered to join us even though she had never been out of the country and had only been on an airplane twice. Deb had a great experience, if you leave out her hysterical screaming upon finding a massive Haitian spider in her bedroom. After Kelly squashed it, I told her to save the legs because that  was the best part. 
 
When you get two dentists together doing dentistry, naturally you are going to have a competition. We invented the mythical “Cajun Cup” in honor of Fr. Glenn, a Cajun from  Louisiana. Go LSU! The cup would go to the team who treated the most patients. This year, thanks to the generosity of the people of St. James Church in Aitkin, we had the  ability to restore teeth rather than just extract them.
 
I’m proud to say old age and treachery overcame youth and enthusiasm, as Terry and I beat Deb and Kelly 100 to 65. I must admit that Kelly, a pedodontist, is used to treating only children. This year Fr. Glenn opened the clinic up to adults too. We saw mostly adults. Adults frighten Kelly, little kids frighten me, so Kelly saw mostly kids and I saw mostly grownups. We saw 165 patients and  performed 435 procedures, and for the first time we fixed far more teeth than we took out. 
 
Our dental assistants spoiled us. Kelly and I would sit in our chairs and as soon as one patient was finished, everything was cleaned up and a new patient was seated. We would  then do an exam and call out what we needed like wait staff to short order cooks: “Two swabs topical, Peri-Press, 301, 151S and a straight Voodoo Hammer!” A “Voodoo  Hammer” is an elevator with a spade-shaped tip named so by Dr. Marty Killeen, a pedodontist from Nebraska who plays ying to our yang with his group who tends the clinic in April. I think it was Archimedes who said, “Give me a Voodoo Hammer and a place to stand and I can move the world!” I could be wrong about that… Kelly and I spent the ten-hour days (with a short lunch break) so glued to our chairs that we agreed to exchange chairs each noon to avoid the “saddle sores” we were suffering. 
 
On the last day, as I was restoring the ravaged upper front teeth of an otherwise beautiful young woman, I was overcome with the feeling “I am really having fun!” I had even  more fun seeing her reaction to her new smile. 
 
Every year when it comes time to return to Haiti, I start to get doubts and concerns: Am I too old for this?  How rough will the trip be? Will we be safe? We are always facing the unknown, but we know it’s the right thing to do. 
 
I am often asked, “Do you see any improvement in Haiti?” Now I can say yes. We have always seen a gradual improvement in the rural towns where Haiti Outreach, the Crudem  Foundation, and other legitimate organizations that understand that the way to help the Haitian people is to teach them how to help themselves operate. But now, thanks to the  outpouring of aid to Haiti after the earthquake, there is a real paved highway being built by the Italians that will span the length of the country over the mountains from Port au Prince to Cap Haitian. 
 
When we go to Fr. Meaux’s we usually fl y from Port on Missionary Air Fellowship to Hinche. This year we fl ew up, but we needed to return home on Sunday, and MAF doesn’t fly on Sunday. Fr. Glenn hired a man from Hinche who had a nice SUV to drive us to the airport. In the past, it would take a bone jarring, life threatening, six to eight hour trip from  Hinche to Port. This trip was a relaxed scenic tour of an hour and a half on the smoothest road you can imagine. The only trouble we ran into was ice on the highway. I know  what you are thinking — “ice in Haiti?” Well, a semi full of blocks of ice from Port au Prince ran off the road and collapsed, sending blocks of ice all over the highway. We gingerly  picked our way through and made it to the airport in plenty of time.
 
So what do we bring home with us on the dental front from this trip? How about another installment of “Think globally, act locally?” This issue’s cover article is titled “Perio Causes Everything?”. Yes, with a question mark. Because perhaps it does, or is it the chicken or the egg? Do people who smoke and otherwise disregard their oral and general health have  not only periodontal disease, but every other degenerative disease you would expect them to have? Read the article and see what the current wisdom is. 
 
When we arrived in  Haiti, our container had not arrived in time for us to have our ultrasonic scaler to blast off the decades of calculus we found on many of our patient’s teeth. I remember extracting  a lower bicuspid on a young man whose calculus covered every surface of every tooth in his mouth. I’ve seen a lot of calculus over the last 40 years, but this topped the list.  Without an ultrasonic, Kelly and I took to using a high-speed handpiece and a flame shaped diamond burr to shave off the layers of calculus oftentimes more  than three millimeters thick. When doing dental work in third world countries, I used to think in terms of extractions or hopefully restorations, but over the years I finally realized  that some of the best work we can do is periodontics. Blast off that calculus. Give the people a chance to keep their teeth. 
 
It is truly good to be home, but I really look forward to going back again next year.
 
*Dr. Stein is Executive Editor of Northwest Dentistry. 
He is a general dentist in private practice in Aitkin, Minnesota, AitkinDent@AOL.com