Dental faculty, students, alumni provide free care in Pikeville
June 29th, 2009
Nolan Jeffreys smiled as he rubbed his jaw, slightly swollen and still numb as a result of the wisdom tooth extraction he had just undergone.
“That’s the first time” he’d had a tooth pulled, he said, and he was impressed. “They had me in and out of there in, like, five minutes. I was expecting it to hurt a lot worse.”
Jeffreys, of Robinson Creek in Pike County, was one of more than 500 patients treated June 27 and 28 in a dental clinic at Pike County Central High School. Staffed primarily by UofL faculty, staff, students and alumni, the dental clinic was part of the Remote Area Medical (RAM) Kentucky program.
RAM Kentucky is part of a national effort to provide free health care in such underserved areas as Appalachia. Stan Brock, one of Marlin Perkins’s assistants in the old TV show “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom,” started the program 24 years ago in Knoxville, Tenn. RAM offers free medical exams and education in cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cholesterol, breast and cervical cancer and other areas; dental cleanings, fillings and extraction; and eye exams and free glasses. It expanded into Kentucky in 2008.
Patients from eastern Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, Ohio, West Virginia and Virginia attended this year’s event. The first patients began arriving at 11 a.m. the day before the event. By 4:30 Saturday morning, more than 250 people were in line.
UofL alumnus and Pikeville dentist William Collins is one of the RAM Kentucky organizers. He approached UofL about organizing and staffing the dental clinic.
“We met several times and spoke a million times,” said Lee Mayer, director of community dental health for the UofL School of Dentistry. “Bill and Pike County government rolled out the red carpet for us. It was a great experience for our students. And they see now that the needs are so great in our own backyard.”
The message clearly hit home for dental student Aaron Warmath and dental hygiene student Isha Patel. Both said they were stunned by the sheer volume of need — and touched by the warmth of the patients. Before breaking for lunch, Warmath and his team already had seen about a half dozen patients.
“Talking to the patients, they don’t have other options,” he said. “They need help, and we’re here to help them.”
“There is a real need here, and the patients are very, very appreciative,” Patel said. “Their eyes just say it all. It shows the education we’re receiving is valuable.”
That’s precisely the point, said School of Dentistry Dean John Sauk.
“The best thing (the students) get out of this sometimes is a hug … from patients who have seen their smile improve or who no longer are in pain,” he said.
Faculty member Bryan Harris takes part in several missions. He said the benefits of the RAM program are numerous.
“We are blessed from the standpoint of being able to help people,” he said. “It’s cool to see the students realize that it’s not just all about the paycheck. And it’s cool to see the students … to be able to see a Bill Collins, who is successful at his practice and still puts so much into giving back” to the Pike County area.
Collins is one of many alumni who pitched in for the effort. Robert McGuinn, an dentist from Atlanta who applied for a special temporary license through the Kentucky Board of Dentistry to participate in the program, joined him.
McGuinn, who calls himself semi-retired, said he was “just giving some free labor” to the program.
“Anything that can help the University of Louisville, anything that can help people out, that’s what we’re here to do,” he said.
UofL also enlisted others, including leaders of the Kentucky Board of Dentistry and the American Dental Association. Several other dentists and volunteers from the Pikeville community and elsewhere also helped.
They were busy. The dental clinic treated 549 people over the weekend, filling almost 500 cavities and pulling almost 600 teeth. They also provided services that rangd from cleanings to identifying potentially cancerous lesions.
Overall, the RAM clinic treated more than 1,100 patients, providing about $250,000 in free health care.
And UofL plans to keep coming back. Mayer said many of this year’s volunteers already have committed to participating in 2010. They may have company; pediatrician Faye Jones attended this year’s RAM event and said she hopes to recruit colleagues from the School of Medicine to help with some of the other clinics next year.
Sauk suggested the university may play a bigger role in Pikeville in the future.
Community service is a core value of the university, Sauk said. And despite the distance between the two, he said Pikeville is part of the UofL community.
“It’s about how far can you stretch your arms and have an impact in the community,” he said. “We’re having an impact.”
Jeffreys, the patient from Robinson Creek, said the program was a blessing. He and his wife, Crystal, were among those in line at 4:30 a.m. While she had a tooth extracted and some fillings, his case was more serious. The wisdom tooth pulled Saturday had been hurting for almost a year, he said, but the cost had made treatment impossible.
“This is a good thing, it really is,” he said. “I really appreciate everything you all have done for us.”