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Rewards outweigh risks for dentist volunteering in Third World
Story by David Dorsey
In the middle of Michael Adsit’s dental clinic sit a washer and dryer, unplugged, unvented—as if they’ve just dropped through the roof. Clearly, he hasn’t quite settled in, though he’s been practicing here in Newark, NY, for a year. Yet, while other dentists his age might obsess about paying bills—and hook up the appliances for washing scrubs—he’s been flying to both Africa and Central America every year to treat the underprivileged.
Highest achievement as a musician a recital of Bach on the organ at the Eastman Theatre; First job parking cars at a Boonville, NY, lumberjack competition; Least favorite dental work extractions; Honors American Academy of Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology Award and Richard A. Powell Award for outstanding service, achievement and dedication to the UB School of Dental Medicine in 2005
He doesn’t think of himself as a hero. He has his limits. For example, when the 29-year-old Adsit, DDS ’05, wanted to volunteer his talents in Africa, he called someone who’d worked in Ghana. It was all encouraging, until one final, throwaway warning: “Just remember. The person who’s carrying the gun is the one who’s in charge.”
OK. Change of plans. He decided to head back to Central America where he’d already volunteered during spring breaks at UB. But after a talk with Renzo Nylander, DDS ’73, a UB dental school faculty member, he booked a flight to Ghana. He’s glad he did. It was brutally hot and exhausting, but hundreds of people found relief as he trekked from village to village offering help. He unfolded his Wal-Mart camping chair, his patients sank into it and, one after another, they learned, for the first time, what it meant to open wide. “It was parachute dentistry,” he says. “Pull teeth. Treat infection. Move on.” On a subsequent trip to Honduras, Adsit saw fluoride being used and decided to bring the rinse to Ghana. It’s fast, inexpensive and the effects are lasting. “You can help many more people that way.”
Though he has yet to run into the proverbial man with the gun, he’s shown great courage. He endures heat and privation in Africa, and in Honduras he braves armies of fleas and the reduviid bug, whose bite deposits a parasite that can lead to heart failure later in life. He laughs at the risks, though, because he loves volunteering. It’s about the people he meets. “Here in the States, a lot of times you wave at someone and they think you must be waving at somebody else. Over there, everybody waves back,” he says. “They are the poorest of the poor. They have nothing. And yet they are happy.”
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