Dr. Keith Phillips
World events — 1982: The British overcome Argentina in the Falklands war; Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev dies; the first permanent artificial heart implanted in a human was placed in Barney Clark at the University of Utah Medical Center; Dr. Francis Serio, a young dentist just two years out of dental school, arrives on a flight from Miami to Santo Domingo to begin what ultimately would become the Dominican Dental Mission Project (DDMP). Today, the DDMP serves more than 44,000 patients and provides over $6 million worth of free dental services!
Dr. Serio was initially motivated to begin this project when he observed the wonderful experience some of his high school classmates had while serving in Africa during their medical school training. He contacted the Catholic Medical Mission Board of New York, which directed him ultimately to the town of San Jose de Ocoa. His first four-week mission trip began with only a few boxes of instruments and supplies and plans to do a few fillings using hand-mixed amalgam and autocure resin, although he realized he would primarily be doing extractions.
The past 22 years have seen an amazing transformation in the DDMP. Dr. Serio continues to guide and direct the project. Teams of 30 or more dentists and volunteers from around the country — including dental students from the University of Mississippi, University of Maryland, and the Medical University of South Carolina — now contribute their time and skills to provide not only surgical care, but operative care, lab services for prosthetics, and even occasional endodontic treatment. The DDMP teams are now completely mobile and spend their time in different mountain villages each day. Schools, churches, and the occasional rural clinic can be converted into functional dental offices in about 45 minutes.
Dr. Serio attributes much of DDMP's success to the cooperative efforts of American and Dominican volunteers. Every year, American volunteers collect supplies and equipment, while their Dominican counterparts make arrangements for their transportation between villages. A well-coordinated schedule and on-site assistants ensure that things run smoothly.
One of the highlights for Dr. Serio and the numerous volunteers over the years was the recognition by President Bush in 1991 when he awarded the DDMP and Dr. Serio the President's Volunteer Action Award. The DDMP is conducted under the auspices of the Catholic Medical Mission Board and is funded from a variety of private sources. Perhaps one of the most inspirational accomplishments is the opportunity Dr. Serio has had over the years to watch several Dominican volunteers become motivated to undertake dental training of their own. In addition, many volunteers have gone on to begin missions of their own in Jamaica, Belize, Vietnam, Cambodia, Venezuela, Mexico, Honduras, Ecuador, and Haiti. Dr. Serio sums up the entire experience by saying: "All who have participated, some many times, have been touched in some way by the dignity, hospitality, and joy of those who have little of the material goods the world offers."
The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The second best time is today.
— Chinese Expression
I shall pass through this world but once. Any good, therefore, that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer it or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.
— Stephen Grellet, Alonzo Newton Benn
Dr. Keith Phillips maintains a private practice in Winston-Salem, N.C. He is president and founder of The Giving Hand Foundation, a nonprofit organization committed to the start-up and development of free medical and dental clinics. Dr. Phillips also serves as a teaching associate at the L.D. Pankey Institute. You may reach Dr. Phillips at keithp@ pprdds.com.