By Gwen Sisson
Dr. Mark Donald of Winston County said he loves seeing patients smile after a treatment at the Mississippi Mission of Mercy Project.
“I know that the patients we treat during our MOM project are the most needy because they are patients who are suffering with pain and cannot afford treatment,” Donald said. “We are going above and beyond our duty as health care providers by providing this service. No other health care professional organization does this type of event where this amount of treatment is rendered without a cost. I really enjoy the smiles after their treatment. The patients are so appreciative. Dentistry is truly a profession that is science and healing arts.”
Donald said as dentists, “we can truly touch lives, render health, and create smiles all at once.”
The motto for the MS MOM Project is “Caring Hands Providing Healthy Smiles!” During the two-day free dental clinic, dentists put that motto into action.
“I am very blessed to be a dentist,” Donald said. “I feel that because of that blessing and privilege, I should provide care to those in need. As oral health care professionals, we have so much that we can do to help people and we should. This is a way that we can.”
For Donald, his passion for healthy smiles was rooted in medical mission trips he would take annually to several foreign countries, providing help and healing to desperately needy people around the world.
“I would give a report or program on the trip (at churches or for organizations) and afterwards someone would always ask, ‘Why go to foreign countries when there is need here in our own backyard?’ This stuck with me,” Donald said.
In the early, 2000’s Donald served on an Academy of General Dentistry Council with a colleague from Kansas, Dr. Cindi Sherwood. She kept inviting him to Kansas to do a “MOM project.” He later found out it was a Mission of Mercy project.
“Every time we talked, she would explain the MOM project and encourage me to come to Kansas to serve on a project,” Donald said.
So in 2008, Donald traveled to Monticello, Ark. to observe his first MOM project. At the time, Donald was serving as president-elect of the Mississippi Dental Association (MDA). He asked the MDA board to initiate a task force to study the MOM project and make a recommendation to the MDA board. Donald chaired the task force and in April 2009, the MDA board approved the recommendation of the task force by moving forward with a project. He was asked to be the project chair of the Mississippi Mission of Mercy (MS MOM).
Donald said there was so much to be accomplished to host Mississippi’s first Mission of Mercy project. He had to form a steering committee of colleagues who were faithful and committed to the project and he had to get these individuals to observe a project before they could truly understand the enormous scope of the event.
In May of 2009, a group of volunteers traveled to Arkansas to observe their first project. During all this, Donald was in fundraising mode — working to raise $100,000 for the first project. Donald said this would cover the cost of the equipment rental, convention center rental, purchase of supplies, purchase of the food to feed the patients and volunteers five meals during the project, and much more. Organizers also launched a foundation to have a vehicle to garner contributions that could be tax deductible.
Organizers also had to get professional volunteers (dentists, dental assistances, dental techs, physicians, nurses, pharmacists, and others) and lay volunteers to agree to serve. In all, they would need over 500 total volunteers to make this project a success.
“There is so much that goes on behind the scenes months prior to the project taking place,” Donald said.
The first MS MOM project took place in July 2011 and they saw 1,435 patients and provided over $654,000 in treatment.
The second project took place at the Muse Convention Center in Pearl in April 2013 and volunteers treated 1,259 patients and provided $627,000 in treatment. Over 100 dentists delivered treatment from 6 a.m. until 5 p.m. on Friday and from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday.
Throughout the event, dental screenings are provided on a first-come, first-serve basis.
The goals of each MS MOM Project includes,
· Providing free dental care for those that cannot afford it,
· Provide fillings, extractions and cleanings. Professional volunteers will relieve pain and suffering by extracting bad teeth and restoring those that can be saved.
· Raise awareness of the lack of access to dental care for low-income adults and children.
“That is a lot of dental treatment rendered in a two-day dental clinic,” Donald said. “As many of my colleagues said after the first project, ‘This is the most rewarding thing that I have done in my personal and professional like.’ We, as a profession, are very blessed and this is just a way that we can give back.”
Sandy Nichols, volunteer at a recent MS MOM Project said this event gave her the opportunity to help people in need.
“We live in a fast-paced society and we tend to forget about others who truly are in need,” Nichols said. “God instructs us to help the ‘least of these’ and that is what MOMS is all about.”
The next MS MOM Project is in the early planning stages with expectations of providing needed dental care to people in the Delta in 2015.
For more information about MS MOM Project or to donate, contact Dr. Donald at (662) 773-8304.