Canvasback Missions sent its last two specialty medical teams of 2014 to the Marshall Islands this month. From September 27 to October 10, a dental and an ophthalmology team held free clinics at Ebeye hospital.
The dental team did fillings, cleanings, extractions, sealants, and pulpotomies. The ophthalmology team did a number of cataract surgeries and dispensed reading glasses and medicines. Anybody who wanted to be seen was treated.
Harry Chambers, DDS, who has accompanied Canvasback on dental missions in Pohnpei and Yap, was the dental team leader. Janet Burki acted as dental team coordinator.
The dentists said there was a big need for dental care on Ebeye.
“We had the first kid open his mouth and saw how bad it was,” said Chambers. “And everyone after that.”
“The thing that struck me most was the stark contrast between the beautiful children of Ebeye and the dental destruction that was apparent when they opened their mouths,” said Hollis Wolcott, DDS, who was on his first Canvasback trip.
Dental Assistant Nickie Porter says the dental conditions are a result of eating Kool-Aid packets and not brushing or flossing. It is important for both children and adults to brush daily with toothpaste.
Jeff Ing was the ophthalmology team leader, and Canvasback Executive Vice President Jacque Spence was the eye team coordinator.
“The most common eye problems were reduced vision from cataracts,” said Sally Mellgren, MD, a team eye surgeon who has been to Ebeye twice before with Canvasback. Mallgren said many of these problems exist because “a lot are diabetic on Ebeye.”
Loren Denler, MD, a team ophthalmologist who has served on Ebeye multiple times, highlighted the need for eye care in Ebeye.
“There is absolutely no eye care whatsoever available in Ebeye,” she said. “No ophthalmologist, no optometrist, not even a store with reading glasses.”
The team was most excited to do cataract surgeries, since these can restore sight to the blind.
Brandy Burton, RN, a scrub nurse who worked with Ing during surgeries, said, “It was a very rewarding experience helping people see again.”
Denler echoed this. “I’m always excited for those who are bilaterally blind with cataracts. We can do surgeries on both of their eyes on consecutive days. It’s exciting to see them able to walk out on their own power.”
She also noted that by restoring sight to one person, two people were freed: the formerly blind and whomever was tasked with caring for them.
The dental team saw 422 patients. It did 279 fluoride varnishes, 181 extractions, 10 cleanings, 5 scalings, 344 fillings, 6 pulpotomies, 197 amalgams, and 732 sealants. The estimated value of dental services is $248,059. The ophthalmology team examined 533 patients and performed 115 cataract surgeries.
Both teams said that excellent hospital staff and patients made the clinics run smoothly.
“The patients were cooperative in being there and getting their surgeries done,” said Burton. “They were so easy to be around.”
Adrian Tomarere, DDS, told me the kids were the best patients.
“They were very cooperative during the procedures,” he said.
Spence wants to send a Canvasback dental team to Ebeye again in 2015.
“The need is just so great,” she said. “Who knows? Maybe we’ll even send two teams!”