Dr. Keith Phillips
The mountains of western Honduras
Dr. Tim Gillespie, an Asheville, N.C., dentist, has now made two trips to remote areas of Honduras in an effort to provide dental care to those in need. The ill-fated first trip began with an uneventful plane flight into the capital city of Tegucigalpa, where a team of 12 dental and medical personnel expected to meet their missionary-support person. After carefully guarding luggage and supplies while waiting for their escort, the group loaded all of their gear into the back of an open truck. After meeting with their Honduran contact and enjoying a light meal at a road-front café, the group members handed over their passports and plane tickets to the missionary for safe-keeping. Little did they realize that leaving their equipment, supplies, and luggage visible in the back of a truck was a really bad idea. Apparently, the temptation was too much for some local miscreants. The truck driver was later forced off the road and all of the equipment and supplies were stolen, including the passports and plane tickets.
Dr. Gillespie treats a Honduran patient
After spending two days working with local authorities, some of the items were recovered; most, however, were lost for good. Despite this unfortunate turn of events, the group decided to continue the trip to a remote village in eastern Honduras, where they treated many patients in an abbreviated time span. Dr. Gillespie borrowed dental instruments from a local farmer/tooth-puller, who provided a host of extraction forceps stored in a pressure pot! Although never in danger of physical harm, this first trip was just not what it could have been. Dr. Gillespie recalls, "It was not possible to feel good about the trip in terms of patients seen nor was it easy to promote the fulfillment of 'giving back' when part of your story includes being robbed in a foreign country."
In spite of the difficulties encountered, the initial trip was not without its own set of gifts. Dr. Gillespie notes, "For a recovering control-freak like me, being relieved of everything but the shirt on my back was a watershed event in my life. The emotional fallout from the experience has enabled me to 'let go of things' as never before, which has dramatically lowered the amount of stress and worry that previously vied for my health and well-being. Life has a certain way of giving us learning opportunities in very unconventional ways, doesn't it?"
A lot of research went into the preparation for the second trip. After some time scouring the Internet, Dr. Gillespie located Baptist Medical Dental Missions International (BMDMI). This group has been organizing trips to Central America for 30 years, sending approximately 40 groups a year into Honduras. This time, joined by fellow dentist and friend, Dr. Matt Stacey, the group traveled to the mountains of western Honduras which, incidentally, look amazingly similar to the Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina. Notes Dr. Stacey, "Because of the long-term relationships developed by BMDMI in Honduras, Dr. Gillespie and his team treated more dental patients and interacted more with the wonderful people of that country, which only enhanced an already rewarding experience."
In all, Dr. Gillespie and the team have found that it isn't easy for a dentist to take time off from a dental practice to "give back." Any time spent away from the office means a loss of revenue. Some trips require dentists to bring their own instrumentation, which only adds to the inconvenience. However, many humanitarian-aid organizations are finely-honed in the ability to allow dentists to simply apply their clinical skills and give back, and dentists are always heavily in demand. Says Dr. Gillespie, "The giver always receives more than he or she gives — in spades!"
Timothy E. Gillespie, DMD, FAGD, maintains a private practice with Drs. Gillespie & Martin, PA, in Asheville, N.C. He is pleased to offer any advice or tips on travel to Central America, and can be reached at (828) 252-9351 or by email at email@example.com.