By AnaMaria Munoz, DDS, MS
Clinical Assistant Professor of Orthodontics
Last July, I had the opportunity to travel to the Amazon as part of the Helping Hands Medical Mission, a non-profit organization that provides healthcare assistance in rural areas of developing countries. It offers its volunteers a transforming experience through the opportunity to share their faith, while serving the needs of others. There were a total of 12 members in our group, consisting of general physicians, pediatricians, nurses and lay volunteers who served as translators. I was the only dentist and was assisted by two wonderful individuals, Robert Schwartz, an educator who translated for me, and Greg Voscopoulos, from Goldman Sachs, who acted as my dental assistant.
My group traveled to Itacoatiara, Brazil, about 200 miles east of the main town of Manau. We worked mainly in two health centers. Because of the rampant decay we found, we did some fillings and many extractions, a challenge for an orthodontist like myself who typically does not do extractions.
All of us in the mission were overwhelmed by the gratitude and generosity of the people we met. In fact, one woman took off the beautiful, handcrafted necklace she was wearing and insisted that I accept it as a gift.
So many people were responsible for the success of our mission. In particular, I want to thank Dean Alfano for his kindness and cooperation in providing essential supplies, equipment, and generous counsel, all of which helped open our clinic doors to the poor in this part of the Amazon. I also want to thank Dr. Francis V. Panno, Associate Dean for Clinical Affairs; Ms. Debra Morris, Director of Standards and Compliance; Ms. Juliet Charles, Supply Coordinator; and the central sterilization team, especially Mr. Robert Crandelo. I also want to acknowledge the generous assistance of Henry Schein, Inc., in donating sterilization materials, and of Mr. Miguel Colmenares, who manages the Schein Dental Supply Store at NYUCD. Finally I would like to thank the Mecca Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery for allowing me to "freshen up" my extraction skills.
As a Colombian raised in Paris and currently living in New York, I am so impressed by Americans’ generosity and willingness to help when asked. To ask and receive help from my professional colleagues in order to serve some of the medically neediest people in the world has been a genuine privilege. I am deeply grateful and honored to be a naturalized American.