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Recovering from disaster

ADA members continue to feel effects of summer storms

The ADA is offering disaster relief and assistance for dentists whose practices were damaged by the hurricanes and tropical storms that have battered the Gulf Coast in recent months.

The latest of those, Hurricane Ike, made landfall early Sept. 13 along the southeastern portion of Texas.

The ADA estimates some 3,400 member homes and offices were located in the hurricane's 12-county impact area, with approximately 200 of those located in devastated areas.

Among the hardest-hit areas were Galveston Island and Galveston, Texas. Other Texas counties severely affected were Seabrook, La Porte, Baytown and Texas City, all located in suburban Houston, as well as the southwestern coast of Louisiana.

Dr. S. Jerry Long, the Association's 15th District trustee, has practiced in Houston for 40 years and called Hurricane Ike the worst disaster he has ever seen in the area, including evacuating for Hurricane Rita in 2005 and another storm in 1984. He lost all communication the first few days following Ike but since then his power and telephone lines have been restored. The worst was losing his home water supply for almost a week.

"Things are improving with me personally, but the only word for Galveston is devastation," he said.

According to Dr. Long, dentists in the Galveston area are treating mainly emergencies right now and using generators. Also, because the water supply remains contaminated, dentists are forced to operate solely by using boiled or bottled water.

"The citizens who have returned are overwhelmed by their personal losses, and quite frankly, undergoing dental treatment is the last thing on their minds," said Dr. Long. "Dentists who are capable of operating are mainly seeing emergencies."

Ward Blackwell, executive director of the Louisiana Dental Association, said dentists in his state were fortunate with Ike (Lake Charles, La., suffered the most) but that Hurricane Gustav recovery remained ongoing. He reported that even after three weeks, mail service was just getting back to normal and that piles of debris remain everywhere. Baton Rouge and New Orleans continue to recover, he said.

"Most LDA members seem to be taking things in stride," he said. "I've spoken with quite a few who suffered minor damage, but major inconvenience. Overwhelmingly, they do not feel that their problems are all that great and are not seeking assistance, even if they might be eligible."

Dr. David Kestel has practiced in Lake Charles, a city of 70,000 located on the banks of the Calcasieu River in southwestern Louisiana, for 33 years.

For 22 of those years he practiced in the same office. But beginning with Hurricane Rita in 2005 and now, with Hurricane Ike, life has become more than challenging for this general dentist. With Rita, it was the wind that caused most of the damage. This time, it was flooding that forced Dr. Kestel to rebuild his practice for the second time in three years. Adding insult to this, he learned too late that his long-term insurance policy did not protect from flooding. So far, he is back to limited practice after purchasing used equipment and receiving some donations from fellow Louisiana Dental Association dentists.

"There's nothing we can do," he said. "Still, we could have had it worse. We're healthy. No one is injured. We can make it.

"It's been one thing after another," continued Dr. Kestel, who lost all of his four operatories (four chairs and all dental units). "When God gives you lemons, you make lemonade. We've been making a lot of lemonade lately."

Dr. Eliot Guerin, who lives in New Orleans and practices in nearby Gretna, La., lost one of his operatories from a caved-in roof during Gustav. Three years ago, his home was severely damaged during Katrina—he lives a half-block from one of the breached levees—and he and his family wound up living in Shreveport (about 5 miles north) for nine months, forcing him to work part-time as an associate there and eventually working part-time in New Orleans while he rebuilt.

A New Orleans native, Dr. Guerin said that while Ike and Gustav were nothing compared to what he experienced with Katrina, his heart went out to those recovering in Galveston.

"I've seen entire offices wiped out," he said. "It's an awful struggle to get back."

As part of its Charitable Assistance Programs, the ADA Foundation has approved grants of up to $2,500 for dental professionals affected by disasters as well as grants for organizations that provide dental services to affected areas. Each dentist's situation will be considered individually by the ADA Foundation's Charitable Assistance Program Committee. Dentists applying for grants should fully explain what they have lost, including dental and other office/home supplies and goods. To apply for relief online, visit www.adafoundation.org/ada/adaf/grants/index.asp#disaster.