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MyView: Organized dentistry saved my life and my practice

May 21, 2012

By Kevin J. Hanley, D.D.S.

The second meeting of the New York State Dental Association House of Delegates is over. It was a rather uneventful meeting, with not too many controversial resolutions to debate and vote on. The meeting, held in Albany in June 2011, lacked much of the glamour and excitement of the first meeting in Chicago last year. Of course, how can you outdo the excitement of something new and fresh?

Dr. Chad Gehani of Queens County assumed the mantle of power when he was sworn in as president. One of Chad’s goals is to increase membership in organized dentistry in general and in NYSDA in particular. Membership is dwindling, and our current members are getting older. It seems dentists are not joining organized dentistry in numbers sufficient to keep membership rolls at their current levels, let alone grow our organization. This is not good, for NYSDA or for organized dentistry as a whole.

Is it that they don’t see the benefit of paying dues to an organization that, to them, doesn’t seem well-defined? It got me thinking about why I joined organized dentistry in the first place and what benefits I have obtained as a member. I will tell you a little story about what organized dentistry means to me and why I think it is so important.

It was a warm, sunny morning in Disney World. I was there on vacation with my wife, Danielle. I had finished my morning run, was showered, shaved and dressed. Danielle was getting ready, so I went out into the living room of our hotel suite to wait for her to finish. We were going to go to Animal Kingdom that day so we could ride Expedition Everest. Suddenly, I became very short of breath and I was sweating profusely. I collapsed on the floor. Hearing a crash, Danielle came out of the bedroom to see what I had tipped over. She found me on the floor, unconscious. She was able to rouse me and asked what had happened. Not knowing what was wrong, I told her I had no idea but I didn’t feel very well. She called 911 at once.

This being Disney World, response was immediate. The front desk sent the lifeguards from the pool to see if they could help, and the EMS arrived shortly after that. The EMTs hooked me up to a portable EKG and told me I was having a heart attack. They rushed me to the hospital in Celebration, Fla., where the ER physician confirmed the diagnosis. As they could not treat me there, I was helicoptered to Florida Hospital in Orlando and taken immediately into the CATH lab, where they performed an angiogram.

The heart surgeon came out to Danielle to tell her what they found. It wasn’t good. I had five blockages and would need bypass surgery. When Danielle asked when, he responded, "Right now." They wheeled me from the CATH lab into the OR and five hours later, I was in the ICU, recovering from open-heart surgery.

Danielle was beside herself; she didn’t know what to do or where to turn. Here we were, in Florida, states away from our home in Buffalo, N.Y., me in the ICU with tubes coming out of me in all directions, her not knowing what to do next. She not only had to cope with the emotional trauma of seeing me in such a state, she also had to think about my practice. What was going to happen to it?

She called David Kinyon, who was then executive director of the Eighth District, to tell him what had happened. Because I was active in organized dentistry, having served as president of the Eighth District in 2002 and as one of its governors from 2003, Danielle knew Dave very well. He immediately sent an email to the members of the society to tell them of my predicament. Word filtered down to the Eighth District Orthodontic Academy and its president at the time, Dr. John Tibbetts. John got together a group of orthodontists who covered my office and saw my patients while I recovered.

I will be forever in the debt of those fellow dentists who came to my aid in my time of need. They didn’t have to do what they did, but they did it anyway. But I doubt they would have responded if not for organized dentistry. It was the connections I made while participating in all the things organized dentistry offered that saved my practice. Without those connections, I shudder to think what would have happened. Certainly my practice would have been severely damaged.

When someone asks me why I am a member of organized dentistry, I give them all the pat answers: organized dentistry is our voice against those out there who will try to make laws that may not be in the best interests of patients; and it is our brotherhood, where we watch out for each other and try to do what is best for our patients. Truth is, I love being involved in organized dentistry. I like serving my colleagues in this special way. I have been honored to serve as a delegate to the ADA House of Delegates for seven years. I was privileged to be involved in crafting the new governance structure of NYSDA. I was fortunate to serve as a delegate to the second meeting of the NYSDA House of Delegates and, as your editor, to attend the inaugural meeting of the HOD in 2010. I am privileged to serve you now as your editor.

However, organized dentistry will always mean more to me than that. Without it, my wife would have had no place to turn in my hour of greatest need. My practice would have suffered significant harm and, possibly, my patients as well. I may have not recovered as quickly and as uneventfully as I did without the connections and friends I developed through organized dentistry, who made my life much simpler at an otherwise trying time. I will always be indebted to everyone who came forward that fateful fall of 2007.

The next time someone asks what organized dentistry has done for you, just refer them to me. I will be happy to tell them how important the ADA, NYSDA and the component dental societies are. Without them, I might not be here today to write these words. I would not be able to relate to you how I rode the ultimate Disney thrill ride and lived to tell the tale. And, to me, that is worth much more than the cost of dues.

Dr. Hanley is the editor of the New York State Dental Journal. His comments, reprinted here with permission, originally appeared in the August/September 2011 issue of that publication.