Dozens of dental students served at the sixth annual Mission of Mercy in Reading, Pennsylvania (MOM-n-PA). The Santander Arena, normally full of screaming sports fans or concert goers, was transformed into a free dental clinic for those in need. There were 1,900 patients seen May 18-19.
About 927 volunteers made this possible on that rainy weekend. Of the volunteers who served, many were dental students from Temple, Penn and other surrounding schools. Reading native Marko Yacoub, a fourth-year dental student at Temple, says it meant so much to him to give back to his hometown. The District 3 outreach and service consultant believes he has something that “can change a person’s quality of life.” Yacoub says, “My family was in need at one time, so I feel obligated to return the favor, just like strangers had done for us.”
I also was a volunteer in my own hometown, being born and raised in Reading. I served as an oral surgery assistant for the morning. By the time a patient had gotten to us in oral surgery, they already had their health history evaluated and radiographs taken. The oral surgeon simply had to make the final call for the treatment that day and then do the extraction. One mother came to have her molars extracted and to get her son’s teeth cleaned. We saw her at 10:30 a.m. She had stood in the rain since 4:30 a.m. to receive treatment.
Dr. Bernard Dishler is one of the founders of MOM-n-PA, along with chair, Dr. Gary Davis, and facility chair, Dr. Bruce Terry. Dr. Dishler says this year was a huge success and that the event has become even better organized and more efficient, as they continue learning new ways to improve.
This was Yacoub’s second year serving MOM-n-PA. For those of us seeing it for the first time, it was overwhelming and also fascinating — how you could turn over that many instruments and patients so quickly, while keeping such high spirits. Yacoub says, “It’s awesome that we all work together in the arena, and it moves so flawlessly because of everyone’s kind hearts on those days. We will never meet every single person, but when everyone fulfills their task, its smooth sailing ahead.”
Rima Modi, a third-year dental student at Temple, served as an oral surgery assistant as well. “The simple words I heard from patients after an extraction of an infected molar touched my heart: ‘You are a healer. You have magic. Thank you for taking me out of months of pain.’ I did everything without realizing what it would mean to people. Those words made me realize the difference dentists make in society. Those words will always be cherished.”
Anamaria Castillo is a fourth-year at Temple; she assisted in triage as a Spanish translator. This was her third year volunteering, and she says that she leaves changed every time. “[It’s amazing to see] such instantaneous results in such a small amount of time, which end up lasting a lifetime.” She still remembers the first time she volunteered with MOM-n-PA. The first patient was a former model who had been bulimic. They restored her anterior teeth, and she was so happy, she cried. Castillo still tears up when she tells the story.
Dr. Dishler gets to see moments like this every year. He says, “My pay is the appreciation of the patients.” On Saturday morning when he drove into the parking lot at 5:15 a.m., the attendant said to him, “I don’t know if people are thanking you, but I really appreciate what you are doing.” Dr. Dishler said he was tired, but those words came at the right time.
“People had been thanking us, but that appreciation when I was tired and had to get ready for another busy day put a little snap in my step and [prepared me] for another great day,” he says.
Through these types of experiences, we gain perspective as to why we chose this profession as well as the ability to evaluate the need of those in our own community. We learn just how big the impact our service is to patients. MOM-n-PA will be planting its feet in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, June 7-8, 2019. Let’s see what next year brings.
~Angela Walter, Temple ’20, Contributing Editor, Operation Smile VP, Chapter Membership Chair