Power outages, equipment held in customs, and dentistry on a local’s front porch! Nothing deterred this wonderful team from Pennsylvania, USA, led by Rob Ayers (the director of The Hearts, Hands and Smiles Foundation), and Dr. Todd Weaver and Dr. John Reckner (of Weaver, Reckner & Reinhart Family Dentistry). Rob is a seasoned dental missionary and stated, “We are on a mission, figuratively and literally.” This Team of 12, including the two dentists, two assistants, two hygienists, and support personnel, came to Gran Pacifica Resort from Feb 10-18 of 2017. It was the Inaugural Dental Mission for the Hearts, Hands and Smiles Foundation, who came with 24 crates of supplies, equipment, instruments, and donations. They were hosted by Gran Pacifica Resort and The Help Them Help Themselves Foundation and worked in a couple remote villages and in the medical clinic of Villa El Carmen, where they treated nearly 400 people and performed over 800 procedures in 5 days.
For most team members it was their first dental mission, with only a few well-seasoned travelers having done this before. For the first 2 days, they worked in the remote communities of Los Navarrete (belonging to the District of San Rafael del Sur) and La Aduana 2 (belonging to the District of Villa El Carmen). They set up mobile units and chairs and treated on the front porch of a local woman’s home. Using billiard tables to lay out their instruments and supplies, and working with the MINSA mobile health units, the docs went back and forth while the other team members cleaned, prepared, treated, entertained the kids, and kept patient flow moving. There was also a pregnant woman, reported by Helio Alfaro, who had to be transported by emergency back to Villa El Carmen Clinic, then to Managua to give birth. Helio was happy she did not give birth in the car. He also said that when he was growing up, there was no clinic in Villa El Carmen, so he had to go to Managua for dental work - and many people utilized Medicina Natural (healing plants and herbs) for dental problems and pain killing. One of the hygienists remarked that there was a lot of hand scaling to be done, and with the equipment being initially held up in customs, their jobs were much more difficult.
The team was doing multiple procedures on most patients: fillings, extractions, and cleanings. They also borrowed a portable X-ray unit from their friends, The Healing Hands Foundation, which was invaluable to the work they were doing, and allowed the docs to do many procedures they would otherwise not have been able to do. As Rob stated, “Without the help of our friends, partners, sponsors, and donors, these things just don’t happen. Many have supported this team and our efforts and have generously contributed to make this mission possible. Without the help of Weaver, Reckner & Reinhart, Henry Schein, The Help Them Help Themselves Foundation, Gran Pacifica, Ayers Promotions, and many of our family, friends, patients, and individuals, we wouldn’t be here helping these people. We are truly grateful for their help and this opportunity.”
Dr. Andrea Martinez, the Medical Director of Help Them Help Themselves (philanthropic organization from Canada) said the power would go out at the clinic of Villa El Carmen every day, so it is important to have an electric power enhancer “to assist the clinic.” As Rob says, “Hey, it’s Central America. Things change at the drop of a hat!” Despite that, his team was ready and willing to do whatever was necessary to get the job done, working long days to treat as many people as they could. They were assisted by Dr. Andrea, Osman Picado, and a couple of local volunteers who helped translate and served as liaisons between the team and the locals to keep things rolling. Rob said, “Osman is the man! He and Andrea were vital to what we were able to accomplish here. Without them, we would be lost in Nicaragua somewhere.”
Team member Nancy Moyer, when asked what the best thing about the trip was, stated, “Engaging the children. Kids are universal, so seeing them be shy at first, then warming up to you was the best part.” Nancy also organized an exchange of photos and artwork with a 3rd grade class in Pennsylvania and the local children they treated. The 3rd grade class from Salford Hills Elementary in Harleysville, PA, also held a toothbrush and small toy drive for the children in Nicaragua. A wall was put up of everyone’s artwork. There was also a musician, Jordan Ham, who currently resides in Managua, who played music and taught kids on his ukulele, while the people waited for their number to be called to be treated. The wonderful, patient people of Nicaragua sometimes waited hours to be treated. For many, it had been years since they had seen a dentist and, since this was all provided as a free service from this team, the lines were long and the patients were many.
It was an incredible inaugural mission for The Hearts, Hands and Smiles Foundation and a terrific experience for the team to be able to give of themselves to so many in need. They are looking forward to coming back and helping the people of Nicaragua again soon.
They really know how to win Hearts by working with their Hands to fix and create Smiles, and they have made many new friends here in Nicaragua.
U.S. team members include Dr. Todd Weaver, Dr. John Reckner, Rob Ayers, Martine Chamberlain, Lisa Muscarella, Joie Meyers, Courtney Moyer, Tara Ayers, Karen Brown, Nandra Mansaram, Diane McLea, and Nancy Moyer.
Blog Authors: Holly Wilson & Rob Ayers