Table of Contents
Steve Henley, DDS
My volunteer work began in 1967 while I was serving with the US Navy in Vietnam. A small boat from the Vietnamese Navy carried me into the Rung Saat Special Zone, south of Saigon, to a village on Long Song Island. A medical doctor and some nurses went with me, and I had "volunteered" my Navy dental technician to come and assist me with the dental patients. We all made up a Med CAP team organized by the Black Berets from the US forces in the Mekong Delta.
Our medical and dental clinics were set up in the covered market of the village. Patients gathered in the marketplace area and waited in line to be seen by the doctor and/or dentist.It seemed that everyone in the village had come to see the doctors. I began to extract teeth, and pulled teeth for over four hours. I only stopped when my arm felt like it was going to "fall off" and when I had run out of local anesthetic. As we left the market and walked back through the village to the boats, I saw many people spitting out the gauze packing that I had placed in their mouths after extracing teeth; it appeared that the whole village had been to the dentist. They were most appreciative for the services rendered to them.
During my duty time in Vietnam, I continued to volunteer for the Med/CAP teams and completed over fifteen patrols. All of these were along the Mekong delta areas south of Saigon.
I was rotated back to the US at the end of l967 and was released from active duty in l968. I returned to my hometown in northwest Indiana and began private dental practice. But very soon I was back in foreign lands doing more volunteer dentistry.
In l975, I went to the island of Hispanola, where I helped in a develoment program called, the Project of Rural Rehabilitation. This church program needed volunteer dentists from America to do the dental part of the project. They could not get Haitian dentists to volunteer, so the project director asked for volunteers from the US. I went to Haiti for two weeks and continued volunteering for two weeks each year over a 10- year period.
We would go in a Land Rover into the hillls of southern Haiti and set up dental clinics on the front verandahs of schools and churchs, and pull teeth until the sun went down. As there was no electricity out in the hills, we had to close down the clinic at dusk. But again I found it similar to Vietnam--patients all around waiting to be seen by the dentist; and there was no emergencies after dark; so it was like "heaven" for a dentist, many, many patients and no night calls.
I enjoyed my work in Haiti so much that I began to look to other areas to volunteer my services. Since that first trip to Haiti, I have worked in the countries of Zaire (Democratic Republic of Congo), Kenya, Ethiopia, Indonesia (New Guinea), Federated States of Micronesia, Hong Kong, China, Cambodia, Thailand, and I have recently been back to Vietnam.
I returned to Vietnam after 33 years with the help of Joy Degenhardt and an adoption organization in Ho Chi Minh City. With permission from the Saigon Minister of Labor, we developed a dental clinic in the childrens' orphanage which had 300 children.
In the small health clinic there, I moved in some dental equipment, dental supplies, and began treating all 300 students. I gave them cleanings, extractions, and fillings. I had a special program with help from Colgate Company which was to teach the kids how to properly brush and care for their teeth. We lined the children up out on the playground, gave each one a Colgate dental kit (toothbrush and toothpaste) and asked them to brush their teeth. I observed and made corrections where needed.
By the time I later returned to Vietnam in 2000, I had put together a "mobile dental outfit" which I used in my volunteer dentistry. It was made up of a portable dental unit (TrailDent), an aluminum lounge chair with extended legs, a black bag full of dental instruments, and a box of dental supplies. All of these items can be packed into four suitcases, and I can do dentistry for over two weeks in rural areas. I usually ask the organization I am working with to try to supply some electricity for a small air compressor which I have.
On weekends when I was in Ho Chi Minh City, we hired a car and driver and went down into the delta area where I served in 1967. In one of the villages I got re-acquainted with a few of my old patients. They did remember me and their visit to the dentist. They openned their mouths and pointed to the spot where the tooth was taken out. "No, it didn't hurt," they told me.
The mobile dental equipment used in the childrens' orphanage is still in use in Vietnam. There have been several dentists and dental students who have volunteered and used the equipment. They have also brought equipment and supplies with them. There are now three dental colleges in Great Britain that send their graduating students who work in three areas of Vietnam. They use the mobile dental equipment, and have transported it to several areas outside of Saigon. Today, I am in Indiana, I have retired from private practice, but I am continuing to volunteer to serve as a dentist in foreign settings. I plan to go to Northern Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam in the near future.
Steve Henley, DDS
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by Don Funk