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After fiery start, Illinois MOM event helps hundreds

July 27, 2016

By Michelle Manchir

Total loss: The America's Dentists Care Foundation truck and its contents were destroyed after an auto accident on Interstate 70 in Missouri, a few days before organizers of the Collinsville, Illinois, Mission of Mercy were scheduled to set up the event.
Collinsville, Ill. — Five days before the dental volunteers for the Mission of Mercy event here were scheduled to see their first patient, the truck carrying all the necessary equipment caught on fire.
Just 20 minutes away from the site of the Collinsville event, a vehicle rear-ended the semi carrying dental chairs and other equipment necessary for 100  dental set-ups, engulfing it in flames and closing the highway for an hour, but, fortunately, causing no personal injury, according to Illinois State Dental Society executive director Greg Johnson.

Still, the dental equipment on the truck was destroyed, leaving the first-ever Mission of Mercy event planned in July for Collinsville — a city of about 26,000 near St. Louis, Missouri — in flux.

"The truck just had to cross the state line (from Missouri into Illinois)," said event co-chair and Swansea orthodontist, Dr. Randall Markarian. "The odds of that happening have to be astronomical; I just couldn't believe it was our truck that got involved in the accident."

Pulling through as a team: Despite the initial obstacles, about 1,400 patients received care during the two-day Mission of Mercy event in Illinois, thanks to hundreds of volunteers.
The hundreds of patients awaiting treatment in Collinsville were not out of luck thanks to some quick thinking — and overtime work — from the staff at America's Dentists Care Foundation, which oversees Mission of Mercy events. A second truck parked in the foundation's headquarters in Wichita, Kansas, was being prepped for a later Mission of Mercy event in Minnesota, and was routed instead to Illinois.  
"Our program team came into the office first thing and immediately went to work rounding out the inventory, maintenance and loading of the trailer for immediate pick up to go to Collinsville," said Bill Blasing, executive director of the foundation.

A friendly, furry face: Esther, a comfort dog, was on hand for dental patients at the Collinsville event.
The truck rolled into Collinsville with plenty of time to spare for set up, arriving early Tuesday for the weekend event, Dr. Markarian said. "We really lucked out with it."
Aside from an aggressive thunderstorm that zapped electricity for a few hours from the hotel where many out-of-town dental volunteers were staying that week, the rest of the event proceeded as scheduled, said Dr. Darryll Beard, event co-chair.
With the help of 900 volunteers over the two-day event,  about 1,400 to 1,500 patients received $1.1 million in dental care, including many who got root canals and partial dentures, said Dr. Beard.
"The collaboration between local dentists, America's Dentists Care Foundation and the Illinois State Dental Society made the weekend successful despite its initial obstacles," said Mr. Johnson.
Mr. Blasing said the foundation has never endured an incident like the truck accident in its history, but he's proud that his team helped pull off the event.

Fairy friends: Abbie Barnes played tooth fairy at the Collinsville Mission of Mercy event and enlisted some security detail from her boyfriend, Mitchell, who served as her "bodyguard" during the event.
"Collaboration is key in any large undertaking such as this, and with our trailer situation the Illinois MOM family was especially gracious and supportive," Mr. Blasing said.
Seeing happy patients made the initially stressful event worth the work, said Dr. Markarian, who recalled seeing a 29-year-old woman taking a "selfie" after receiving a partial denture.
"She turned around and burst into tears and put her arms around me and told me her story: she had never had a front tooth since she was little. She's in nursing school now and a health care professional and always been self-conscious," he said. "This changed her life."
For more information about America's Dentists Care Foundation and Missions of Mercy, visit its website,