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Dental students bring smiles to Romanian orphans
Photos and Story by James Hill
by James HillWhat would it be like to work 10-hour days, halfway around the world, performing dental work on Romanian orphans over Thanksgiving?Ask several PCC students and staff who assisted Northwest Medical Teams, providing care to 130 children in the Transylvania region of Romania.Josette Beach, dental hygiene instructor, talked about the emotional bond. "We got so attached to the children being around them for five days,"said Beach. "We really developed some strong connections. And to see how much we have and so little they have."All said it was an experience they would not forget.The PCC group included Anne Jackson, director of the Dental program, second-year dental hygiene students Ron Wright and Katie Harrington, and Beach. They traveled with Salem pediatric dentist Weston Heringer of Northwest Medical Teams on the international dental mission Nov. 21-29.The PCC staff and students assisted the dentist mainly with cleanings, extractions, shots and handed out toothbrushes to girls, ages 8 to 18. The group returned satisfied, knowing they made a difference.After they arrived in Bucharest, they drove five hours to the small, mountainous town of Sibiu. The dental groups from Northwest Medical Teams have been providing care to the children in the state-run orphanage there for about four years.The children were excited to see the Northwest Medical Teams’ van and having the staff there. They rushed the van when it arrived and crowded around it so much on their departure that they had a hard time getting by them."The children organized a Christmas play in the gym and sang songs and made us Christmas cards,"said Harrington.The experience was beneficial and often times grueling for the students and staff. Many of the kids had Down Syndrome and someone had to hold them down to perform tooth extractions and or hold down lips in order to finish cleanings while faces twitched."They were so depressed and the key was to try to be always happy because we’re not used to seeing these things,"Harrington said. "It did touch my heart."Jackson said the fact that they came made an impression on the locals."To have representatives from Northwest Medical Teams come from America, half-way around the world, sent a message to the Romanians that somebody does care,"Jackson said.And they helped make the girls feel better about themselves."One of things we did was we fixed their front teeth so they look good,"Beach said. "The value of seeing that child suddenly smile, feeling good about how they look, is a great thing. But what we did there was a drop in the bucket. There are hundreds of orphanages just like this one and there is a huge need."Northwest Medical Teams International started its work in Romania in 1990, after the fall of the communist leader Ceausescu, by sending a medical assessment team and providing over $300,000 in equipment and supplies. The teams usually have taken students and staff from OHSU’s dental hygiene program. With its discontinuation, Northwest Medical Teams turned to PCC. "We want to thank everyone in the PCC community who supported us on this trip,"Jackson said. "We got nothing but a positive experience from this."Wright agreed."My confidence is soaring,"Wright said. "It was such a valuable experience that I wish every student could experience this."