Smiles are important to dentist Gene Tymkiw and his assistant Donna Cook.
Most weeks, the two are kept busy repairing, building or pulling teeth in Tymkiw’s well-appointed Alexander Street dental office.
But Tymkiw and Cook also share a passion for giving of themselves by donating their time and talents to provide smiles to those who would not otherwise have access to much-needed dental work.
“It just makes you feel so good,” Tymkiw says with a warm smile of his own. “Dentistry has been good to Donna and myself and it’s just so nice to give back.”
The two will soon be packing their bags to return to Cuenca, a cultural centre in the mountains of Ecuador. It is the second trip for both of them – Tymkiw went two years ago and Cook took part in the medical-dental mission last year.
Both are amazed by the country, its people and Tome Bamba, the Cuenca Rotary Club that facilitates and organizes the annual mission on the ground in Ecuador.
Supported by Shuswap Rotary and Rotary clubs in Edmonton, the team consists of about 55 people, including orthopedic surgeons, nurses, anesthetists, physicians and dentists.
“We just take everybody that would help us render service in hip and knee replacements and dental work,” says Tymkiw, noting the Cuenca Rotary Club pre-selects some 50 to 60 impoverished patients for treatment per year. “Our job then is to go through all those patients and remove infection, remove teeth, clean teeth or fill them prior to surgery.”
Done in an effort to reduce the risk of infection following surgery, dental teams spend all day Sunday doing this important prep work.
On Monday morning, the dental teams head into the surrounding hills on day one of a five-day round of visits to schools where poverty is prevalent.
“When we get there, the kids are lined up and smiling,” says Cook, noting that what would normally be done over several visits in the Salmon Arm office is done in one day because that’s all the time the teams have at each school. “At the end of the day they’re so frozen they’re drooling, but they’re still smiling.”
And the smiles make it all worthwhile – even the challenges of working in less than stellar spaces.
“One school I went to was a hut, it was awful, you can’t imagine,” says Tymkiw, describing an old goat barn. “I sat on a goat milking stool and unfortunately the nails were abrading my ass. I tell you, I had such a sore butt that night.”
“And the roads, that’s the exciting part,” laughs Cook. “They give us Greyhounds, and every bus and taxi you get into, you grab the seat belt and you tie the fabric ends. Safety isn’t a big thing in Ecuador.”
But help is.
A longtime Rotary Club member, Tymkiw applauds the Cuenca group, but laughs when he describes their operations.
“The most phenomenal part of this trip is to see how the men have managed to take credit for all the wonderful things on the mission,” he laughs. “The women are not allowed to belong to the club but they do all the work.”
Tymkiw also tells of a “magic guy,” a medical doctor by the name of Manuel, whose practice largely caters to the impoverished in hills around Cuenca.
It’s Manuel who finds the people up in the mountains who need hip and knee surgeries.
Ready to provide their services again, Tymkiw and Cook are gathering up support and medical supplies for their third trip to Cuenca, one that takes place next month.