Courtesy of Lisa Newberger. 11 August 2014.
On May 28, Heather was on Google and came across my article, “Treat dental patients as you want to be treated.” It spoke to her about how she should be treated as a patient, and she felt compelled to write me. Little did she know how it would change both of our lives.
Allow me to introduce you to Heather, a 36-year-old woman with four children who works fulltime in a bar making $8 an hour. She is also a fulltime college student carrying a 3.8 GPA . Her goal is to earn a master’s degree in social work so that she can make a career of helping others. But there is one big problem that is tearing her apart and taking a toll on her self-esteem – her teeth are breaking off.
Heather does the best she can to care for her teeth, but this problem is beyond her control. It’s been very hard for her to deal with how people look at her and how they perceive her with her breaking teeth. People tend to make snap judgments based on what others look like, and because of where Heather lives people presume she is a meth addict. I assume most or you dental professionals know that when one uses meth, the user’s teeth break off. My article on DIQ resonated with Heather, so she did something she’s never done before. She stepped out of her comfort zone and wrote to the author – me.
When I received her email, I had no idea what I could do for her, but something inside of me was telling me to do something. Reaching out to my editors, to a superstar in the dental industry, and to a local dentist, I looked for guidance as to what they could suggest. Heather wasn’t asking for anything, but I had no choice. Something outside of me was telling me to go down this path. It was a no-brainer. I was supposed to do something for her – or was this for me?
My connections gave me resources in California, which I then sent to Heather. Her response made me cry. (I’m a tough cookie to crack. Crying is not my thing. But Heather has triggered many tears with her eloquent writings and kindness for others.) She was so appreciative that I wanted to help her. We talked that night, and I learned something right away. It doesn’t take much to change someone’s life.
I reached out to my contacts to see what we could do for this woman. She needed a break. She was working hard to take care of her family and establish a career to support them. But having your teeth break off in your mouth is frightening, painful, and embarrassing. Heather was scared she would become ill with these holes in her mouth and might not be around for her children. For some reason, she didn’t share her heartache with her support system. But she was able to share with me. As a result, she opened up to the people who love her most, and her life began to change.
And did the dental profession ever come through! I was able to find a dentist located three hours away from Heather who was willing to treat her for free. The way his staff treated her and the time and patience they gave her – let’s just say they have a fan for life. This doctor committed to removing Heather’s teeth and getting her a first set of dentures, a total of $11,000 worth of free work. Then, a dentist in Virginia reached out and agreed to take responsibility for the second set of dentures Heather will need in nine months. Another dentist contacted Heather directly and asked how he could help. He sent a picture of his staff standing behind a sign that said, “Heather, you inspire us.” These busy dental professionals took the time to get involved. They had nothing to gain from helping, other than they knew it was the right thing to do.
Most of the support we have gotten with Heather’s story has been incredible. But I’ve also had some shocking experiences. A good friend of mine from graduate school actually said to me, “You’re just looking for attention. You want people to tell you what a great thing you’ve done.” I was stunned, speechless to be exact. This woman completely missed the boat on that one. I couldn’t have accomplished this goal if I hadn’t told anyone what I was trying to do. How could I, a professional speaker in Cleveland, Ohio, arrange for $14,000 worth of free dental care in California without telling anyone what I was trying to do?
Here is a call to action. Look at your own life. What would it take for you to get involved with a total stranger? We all have problems and busy lives. What would it take for you to care about someone you have no investment in? What if it’s a friend? How many of your FB friends do you really know well? Relationships are about spending time together and investing your time and energy in one another. The question really is – what have you done for someone else that you weren’t paid for? That’s a tough question. We need each other. We’re becoming more and more isolated because of technology. We stop talking to people. We stop looking in each other’s eyes. We stop communicating. And, we stop being human. Do something about this. Take charge of your life. Reach out to someone, be it a stranger or friend or family member. Take the time to care and be genuine about it. Who will benefit more — you or the other person? My money is on you.
If you asked Heather what she feels about me, she’d probably tell you I’m like a fairy godmother. Actually, she is my partner in crime. What she doesn’t know is that even though I may have played a role in changing her life, she altered mine forever. She reminded me that I’m a social worker at heart. That no matter what I do, I’ll always be me. I will always do what I can to help others, listen, and care. I thought I might have lost that part of me when I shifted into developing workshops and products. What I realize now is that I never lost that part of me. Instead, I brought that with me to my writing and my ability to engage audiences.
My challenge to you is to figure out what you care about and dive into it. We need each other. You really can’t reach your goals alone. It does take a community. So thank you DentistryIQ, for giving Heather and me the opportunity to randomly connect and have a meaningful experience that changed our lives forever.