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Annual Dental, Medical Mission To Ecuador

The Carroll County Times

WESTMINSTER, Md. (AP) -- Moving to a different city as a teenager can be daunting, never mind a whole other country.

That's what Tammy Fesche and her family did; moving from Loja, Ecuador, to the United States when she was about 15 years old. Since then, Fesche dreamed of helping the people of her country in any way possible.

After marrying dentist Marshall Fesche, she realized the two could collaborate on a project to aid impoverished children in Ecuador.

So in 1990, Tammy, of Lutherville, founded The Ecuadent Foundation, a nonprofit that makes annual missions to different parts of Ecuador, bringing clothes, schools supplies and dental equipment in tow. Marshall is a partner of the Carroll County Dental Associates in Westminster, which works with Ecuadent for the trips.

"I was very lucky to come to this country," Tammy said. "My promise always was to go back and help the people of my country, because ... at a very young age, I learned that it is a necessity to help the people, so I had that with me."

Ecuadent provides free medical and dental care to children throughout Ecuador. The medical team corrects congenital deformities, such as cleft lip and palate, and the dental team provides general and advanced care, according to the website.

Last week, volunteers for the organization helped to load a giant container with supplies that were donated by people and companies, such as Patterson Dental in Laurel. Everyone pitched in to help pack box upon box full of clothes, supplies and more, labeling each box specifically and taping them closed.

The volunteers worked together to carry the heavier packages, stacked the boxes on dollies and delivered them to the container, where a handful of people were waiting to organize and pack everything tightly.

Paul Thuot is one of those volunteers. He hasn't been on a mission yet, but since he works as an emergency nurse in Baltimore, he said it's what he does.

Thuot has been helping to load the container for the past several years, because he enjoys being able to lend a hand.

"I like the stewardship aspect of it ... people in need, we have the supplies, it's a good fit." Thuot said. "There are people living in abject poverty, they (have) virtually nothing, so it's a very good cause. I'm glad to do it."

The container will be sent by sea, which will take about 15 days to arrive, Tammy said.

The next trip is to Salinas, Ecuador. The container will be met by the country's navy, where they will make sure the supplies are safe until the teams get there in February.

Tammy said she has networked to create a working relationship with the country's navy and army, to make sure the group has safe passage through the areas they work in, as well as access to new regions.

Marshall said many of the people they encounter don't even have toothbrushes, so the group brings about 10,000 of them to just hand out.

After spending more than 20 years making these trips, Marshall said he never gets used to seeing the things he has seen, particularly when the group visits local orphanages.

"A lot of (the kids) just look (like) normal, healthy kids, they just don't have parents," he said. "We take (them) a lot of supplies. ... And they entertain us for the evening, we play with the kids ... and get some food there, so it's very rewarding."

The volunteers are mostly from around Maryland and Pennsylvania, with an anesthesiologist coming from Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, in Lebanon, N.H., Tammy said.

There are two teams of medical professionals that attend every year, with one group of surgical doctors and nurses, and then another with dentists and hygienists, according to Tammy.

On the group's first trip there were only about 10 people. Since then, Tammy said the trips have grown to more than 40 people.

Jack Hankle, an oral surgeon, began volunteering around 1995 when he found out about the organization's work through a colleague in York, Pa. He said the work is something he enjoys because the people truly appreciate it.

"Just to see the kids and how appreciative their parents are, it does so much for you," he said. "It's become a part of my life, and I can't do without it. I'm addicted to it"

Hankle said there are so many memorable moments from his time spent in Ecuador with the nonprofit, but one that sticks out is when he was working on a child with an impacted tooth.

"His parents wanted (the tooth) removed ... that they wouldn't be able to get it done if we didn't do it," Hankle said. "So I went ahead and did it, and the parents were just so thankful. It was so heartwarming. To do things that kids aren't able to get down there, it's what it's all about"

Tammy said she does the work for her country because it's very satisfying to help people who would not otherwise get the assistance.

"Your heart is just full," she said. "It's also sometimes ... heart wrenching. Because you cannot get to all the patients because of time. And they're people that really appreciate what you are doing."

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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