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Give Kids A Smile ambassador wins leadership award after nearly fatal beach accident

September 04, 2019

By Mary Beth Versaci

When Dr. Joseph Brofsky was knocked down by a wave and left face down in the water on a Dominican Republic beach in March, he did not know if he would survive.

The force of hitting his head on the sand had caused his neck to snap back, compressing his spinal cord. He could not move his arms or legs.

All Dr. Brofsky could do was pray to God to pull him through so he could meet his first grandson in June.

"I was floating in the water and talking to God, negotiating, 'Please don’t take me,' because I thought it was over," said Dr. Brofsky, 62.

Thanks to the quick action of the friend who pulled him out of the water and the care provided by surgeons and physical and occupational therapists, Dr. Brofsky is now back on his feet, back at work and even back with his fellow Give Kids A Smile ambassadors.

He received a special welcome Aug. 5 during the 2019 Give Kids A Smile Ambassador Alumni Conference in Chicago when Dr. Jeff Dalin, St. Louis Give Kids A Smile co-founder, honored him with the inaugural Joan Allen Give Kids A Smile Ambassador Award for his work with the program.
Photo of Dr. Brofsky receiving award
Outstanding leader: Dr. Joseph Brofsky receives the inaugural Joan Allen Give Kids A Smile Ambassador Award during a reception Aug. 5 at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. Photo courtesy of Dr. Sergio Nadler
"Dr. Brofsky exhibits all of the traits that are synonymous with those of our original GKAS executive director in St. Louis, Joan Allen," Dr. Dalin said. "He is hardworking and dedicated and has a huge heart filled with love for kids who are so desperately in need of dental care. Joe is a great asset to our national Give Kids A Smile program, always willing to help improve and build programs around the country."

The Joan Allen Award will recognize one ambassador every two years who has provided outstanding leadership on behalf of the Give Kids A Smile program.

Dr. Brofsky has volunteered with Give Kids A Smile for about 15 years, becoming an ambassador five years ago. He organizes an event each year in Long Island, New York, sponsored by the Nassau County Dental Society. It typically serves more than 1,000 children, sometimes as many as 1,500.

Part of Dr. Brofsky's work with Give Kids A Smile over the last few years has focused on extending the program's care to children with disabilities.

"Now, just about every event in New York invites kids with special needs, and it's grown across the country," he said. "It's really a good thing that Give Kids A Smile has opened its doors to kids with special needs."

Those who are interested in getting involved with Give Kids A Smile can contact their state or local dental society to find an event near them or visit to learn more.

A resident of Lynbrook, New York, Dr. Brofsky is the section head of pediatric dentistry at Cohen Children's Medical Center in Queens and the owner of a private pediatric dental practice in Woodmere, New York.

He is back to working full time at the hospital and part time at his private practice, but he continues to receive occupational therapy in the hopes of being able to perform procedures such as fillings again, in addition to the exams he is already able to give.

In June, Dr. Brofsky was able to hold his grandson, Isaac, after strengthening his arms through weight training.

"I cried like a baby," he said. "It was pretty exciting."

As Dr. Brofsky continues on his road to recovery, he knows his next Give Kids A Smile event, coming up in February 2020, will be especially meaningful.

"People think it's a miracle, my recovery, and it might be; it depends on what you believe. I believe in God, and I thank God every day for being able to be back," he said. "This year's Give Kids A Smile is going to be pretty special for me because up until a couple of months ago, I couldn’t even think about it."