Area volunteers treat children's teeth in Ecuador

April 10, 1994|By Lisa Respers | Lisa Respers,Contributing Writer

To the people of Ecuador, Tamara G. Fesche might seem to be an angel.

Mrs. Fesche is the executive director of ECUAdent, a program that enlists volunteers in the dental profession to aid poor people in foreign countries. She and 23 health care professionals spent 10 days in March in the Ecuadorean villages of Latacunga and Salcedo, treating children who get little dental care.

The group included oral surgeons, dentists, nurses, technicians, hygienists and dental assistants. Each participated as a volunteer.

Some of the same group visited Russia on a similar mission last year, and a trip to Cuba is being considered.

"We all pay for our own plane tickets," said Tara A. Ayers, a dental assistant in Westminster who is the supply and donation coordinator for the Ecuador project. "This is my second time. It's just basically the most rewarding thing I've ever done in my life. I'll go as many times as I can."

Mrs. Fesche is a member of the Westminster Rotary Club. Her husband, Marshall, practices dentistry in Westminster.

"When I became a Rotarian, Rotary was mostly male," said Mrs. Fesche. She said her husband helped her come up with the idea for the program.

She organized her first trip in 1990. She is a native of Ecuador who wanted to give something of value to her country.

"It's a very good program," Mrs. Fesche said.

The ECUAdent program relies on donations from businesses and individuals for supplies such as medicine and the 6,000 toothbrushes the group distributed in Ecuador.

"Our goal is to teach prevention," Mrs. Fesche explained. "We teach them how to brush their teeth, how to floss, what to eat."

The program mostly focuses on the children because of their great need and the belief that the children will carry what they learn home to their parents.

"The children are the future of the country," Mrs. Fesche said. "Children are flexible, and more likely to change and improve their lives."

Some of the children required surgery for facial abnormalities.

"We compiled a group of surgeons who do cleft and palate surgeries," Mrs. Fesche said. "We found out there were tremendous incidents of children with cleft lips.

"All their lives they cover their faces. We did surgery on one little boy -- he was 10 years old -- and I asked his mother what grade he was in. She said, 'Oh, no, he couldn't go to school like this.' I literally had tears in my eyes."

The Ecuadorean army provided transportation, food and housing for the visitors, and rounded up the patients. Mrs. Fesche said she has has had great support from Gen. Edmundo Luna, commander of the army, and Col. Rene Yandun, who is second in command.

"People are really thankful for the services," Mrs. Fesche said.

On the trip to Russia in August, 10 volunteers, including some of those who later went to Ecuador, journeyed to Lubertsy, 30 miles outside Moscow.

Dr. and Mrs. Fesche got invaluable assistance from their 13-year-old daughter, Camille.

"I took her to Russia because she really admires what I do," said Mrs. Fesche. "The children seemed to trust us more with her there to soothe them."

She is grateful to the volunteers who "are special people to give of themselves."

But something even more compelling keeps her going back.

"When you see the faces of those children," Mrs. Fesche said, "I could die happy."

In addition to Dr. and Mrs. Fesche, their daughter, and Mrs. Ayers, participants in the Ecuador and Russia trips included pedodontist David Hasson of Mount Airy; orthodontist David Fields and his wife, dental assistant Debbie, of Westminster; general dentist Sue M. Chun of Westminster; general dentist Pari J. Moazed of Westminster;

Periodontist Arnold Sindler of Westminster; pedodontist David Laughlin and his wife, hygienist Leslie, of York, Pa.; oral surgeon Jack Hankle of York; hygienist Beverlie Downs of Adamstown; hygienist Patricia Colgan of Hanover, Pa.; oral surgery assistant Lynn Garvin of Baltimore; dental assistant Delphia Schriver of Mount Airy; interpreter Jaime Flores of College Park; otolaryngologist Brian Flowers of Baltimore;

Oral surgeon Thomas Jeter of San Angelo, Texas; oral surgeon Bruce Horswell of Baltimore; anesthesiologist Kevin Gerald of Baltimore; general dentist Marlin Rekow of Baltimore; and three registered nurses from Baltimore, Paula Butler, Ann Schmitt and Cecilia Benalcazan.

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