Students Travel Mexico to Volunteer with LIGA

May 21, 2013

A young Mexican patient awaiting treatment

A young Mexican patient awaiting treatment

Colin Brady, Andrew Jorgensen, John Greiner, and Josh Quinby (all DMD 13) travelled to four sites in the Mexican states of Sinaloa and Chihuahua with LIGA International and mission leader and longtime friend to GSDM volunteers Dr. Fred Kalinoff in March 2013. Also joining were Jorgensen’s father Tom, a dentist, and wife Nicole, a nurse.

Since 1934, LIGA has brought audiologists, physicians, surgeons, podiatrists, anesthetists, nurses, and translators to Mexico to provide free health care and education. The group visited El Fuerte, San Blas, Cuiteco, and the Copper Canyon. LIGA does not take volunteers to the Canyon, but Dr. Kalinoff makes it a habit.

They arrived in the Copper Canyon on the heels of a Tarahumara race. After sleeping late the next day to recover, the local residents began to visit the dental clinic volunteers had set up at a local school. There, the volunteers noticed an intriguing trend.

“After the children were numbed up, they immediately started crying,” says Jorgensen. “After a little while we put it together that they had never been to a dentist, had never been numb, and they didn’t know that feeling was going away.”

An added challenge, the volunteers could not communicate verbally with patients. Although some volunteers spoke Spanish, the official language in Mexico, the Tarahumara have their own language and do not learn Spanish until later in school.

Both in the Copper Canyon and other sites, including El Fuerte and San Blas, volunteers faced a conundrum common among international elective externships participants. Jorgensen explains:

“Do you treat each person as much as you can or do you treat as many people as you can? It would depend on the day, but if a patient had multiple teeth hurting, we would try to do as much as we could as quick as we could.”

Having his father on the trip as another mentor was a bonus. “He’s a great teacher,” Jorgensen says. “He did a great job of letting us figure things out while still being there to help if we had a problem.”

The students estimate that they saw 250–300 patients, each with 3 or 4 teeth that needed treatment. They had enough fluoride varnish to treat about 50 children.

The students describe the externship as a great team building and learning experience. “Whether it was speaking Spanish, treating children, or doing extractions, we all gained confidence in areas we were not as comfortable with at the beginning of the trip,” Jorgensen says.

“It is inspiring to see our students handle themselves so well under the challenging circumstances presented by international mission work,” says Dean Jeffrey W. Hutter. “This no doubt points to their excellent professional abilities, which will serve them well as they become practitioners.”

Photos are available on Facebook and Flickr.

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