This was my sixth trip with Drew Cahoon to Uganda and Rwanda. Five years had passed since my last trip. The preparation for this trip happened a year and a half before the sixth trip, although at the time I had no idea I was even going back and that it would be essential for the next trip. I by chance ran into an old friend Jim Bekker, a fellow pediatric dentist, at the car wash near my house in Sandy, Utah. He was involved with the new University of Utah Dental School. He said he needed help at the school and asked me to apply to be a clinical professor in the pediatric dentistry department. He was the only pediatric dentist at the school and was mostly doing administrative work. I applied and after about 4 months was hired. A few months later he was called to be a Mission President in Hawaii and left. That left me, then later, two other Pediatric Dentists were hired. We developed all the forms, protocols, CODA forms, competencies, requirements for the Pediatric Dental Department. In this process I learned how dental schools worked. Knowledge which was very helpful in Burundi.
Drew wanted to bring digital x-rays to Uganda. He had previously placed a computer and Scan-X processor in a few clinics. He asked me if I could get a Dental Program to take over, and get it real cheap. I thought he was nuts and no way. I contacted the Patterson Dental rep. who services the U of U dental school. By some miracle they were excited to help. They gave me their Eagle Soft Program. The training expense was cut in half. Gave me a crash course in how to work the program early in the mornings just before I left. I have always used Dentrix. They gave me extra copies of the program. They gave me permission to install their Eagle Soft Dental Program in two or more dental clinics. Drew picked the two best dental clinics in Uganda. Mubende Regional Referral Hospital and the other in Mbarara, Uganda. Installation of this program would allow them to have digital x-rays and the full use of a Digital Office. They already had a computer and Scan-X processer. The internet in Mubende was very inadequate. It was very difficult to upgrade their computers to Windows 10 Pro and install the Eagle Soft Program and the scan-x driver.
We had a difficult time getting the Scan-X processer to merge with the Eagle Soft program. I kept getting an error message that stated the Scan-X port wasn’t installed. I spent 45 minutes on the phone from Mubende, Uganda to the Patterson help line in North America. The internet was so slow they couldn’t remote access the computer to diagnose the problem. They couldn’t help. That night I reloaded all programs again. Said a prayer before going to bed. When I went to their clinic the next day I was sure it would show the same error message. We set everything up, took a radiograph. I pushed the start button which is when the error message would show up. The error message didn’t appear. Instead a message showed up, stating the processer was ready to accept the film. Patrick the Ugandan Dentist and myself looked at each other in total amazement. It worked. We put the film in and the image showed up on the computer. We took x-rays on all the patients from that point on. The first digital x-rays in East Africa. Up to this point very few x-rays were ever taken. With the digital x-rays and instant image, they could educate patients and try to convince them to restore their teeth as well as extract them. This opened up a whole world of possibilities. This is the beginning of a new era for dentistry in East Africa. I was able to go to the other clinic in Mbarara and install the program there. With the lousy internet speed, difficulty upgrading to windows 10 Pro, difficulty loading the Eagle Soft program it was a miracle it worked. I’m sure God helped, because my computer skills were maxed out. This by itelf made the whole trip. Patrick was the happiest dentist in all of Uganda. He had been wanting and waiting for this for a long time. He is planning on making a presentation to show other dentists in Uganda the benefits of the Eagle Soft Program and the digital radiographs.
The second part of the adventure started as soon as we finished at the clinic and arrived back at the hotel in Mubende. Joseph our driver showed up and told us Drew wanted us to leave immediately and drive to Mbarara to install the Eagle Soft program. I had tried to help Joseph install it over the phone without success. I needed to be there. So we left and were going to stay overnight in Masaka before heading to Mbarara. Christa had previously done an outreach in an orphanage in Masaka. She wanted to stay overnight at the orphanage. She wanted me to stay there and arranged a room for me. When we arrived, it was late at night, the children had waited up to welcome us. And the welcome was a big welcome. The children sang and shook my hand and was very welcoming. The orphanage was very special. The person in charge Robert is taking children who have been abandoned and left to live on the streets. He provides a home, a family, safety, feeds them, and helps them with school. The children become a family. It is a Christian based home with morning devotionals, songs etc. The children who don’t have money for school are taught there. The children seem to be happy and well taken care of. Christa fell in love with them and is going to be on the board of directors to help with fund raising and teaching. Over time as I thought about the children, their circumstances and what Robert was trying to do, my feelings started to change and I felt a desire to help them. This is a feeling I have never ever had. They need some land where they can grow food, raise animals and become partially self-sustaining. I’m going to try to help them achieve their dreams. This was non dental but one of my favorite memories. The children in Uganda are very special. Had we not left immediately that night, we would have not stayed overnight at the orphanage. In fact, I don’t think we would have even stopped. Another coincidence?? that allowed me to meet the children and visit the orphanage and change me inside.
The last part of the adventure was the best. When we arrived at the Burundi airport, there was a surprise welcoming party. They met us and drove us to the hotel. They were very glad that we had arrived. The next days were spent deciding what and how to teach the dental students at INSP Dental School. Christa took seven of the 18 students and spent the entire week teaching them how to treat Periodontal disease, how to scale and clean teeth, infection control, sterilization of instruments. She did a very good job and developed a very fun and effective rapport with her students. Both Drew, Christa and I felt the small group all week long was the most effective way to teach the Periodontal course. But the key was Christa, she was awesome. Drew and I took the other students to another room. It felt like working in a sauna. Drew taught them how to floss and brush. They had never heard of floss. He taught them ART, community dentistry, had them mixing Fuji IX. They spoke French and we spoke English. Drew was very energetic. Drew has a way of teaching that gets the students very involved, excited, and involved. He had them very excited to go teach others about oral health. We spoke English but they spoke French making it difficult to teach. They didn’t understand us very well. I brought six dentiforms and holders. We had them practice holding a mirror, instruments, hand pieces. They had never touched or held any dental equipment. This was a totally new experience and they loved it. My students at the U of U are great but these students were way more excited to do things. The next day we went over to the clinic where they had dental chairs and AIR CONDITIONING. I got one chair and unit to work with our high and slow speed handpieces. Each student drilled out one class one preparation on a molar. They weren’t too bad for first timers. Then we went back and filled them with amalgam. The next day we went back and drilled out more class I preparations and a bunch of Class III preparations. We went back to the other room and they filled every spot with either amalgam or composite. They had to take turns. They were all over each other watching, giving advice and waiting their turn. They filled everything. Then I went over some of my lectures with them from the U of U dental school. I showed them the x-rays that had been taken at Mubende. They wanted to see and experience everything. Over time I fell in love with them and felt a desire to come back and help them. Something I have never felt on any other trip. We also discovered another dental school at Hope Africa University. Drew and I went over and talked to their students. I talked to their administrators and explained how our schools worked in North America. I gave them some advice which was counter to what they were thinking. I explained how we evaluated our students and the process involved. They did not have any of these things in place. At the time I felt that, (maybe they didn’t want to hear what I said, and wished I hadn’t been invited), because it told them they had to change their school. They had no way to teach and evaluate clinical skills and competencies. They eventually decided that they needed our help in setting up their clinical curriculum. We decided to finish the INSP class and focus on the dental students at Good Hope University. Drew was able to convince the Health Minister to give dentistry a higher priority and more support. This was a very big deal because Burundi is a very poor country. Supposedly the second poorest country in the world. They have major health problems with HIV and malaria. We teamed up with a group called IPROSARUDE which is dedicated to bringing dentistry and vision to the rural parts of Burundi. These people were the nicest, kindest people I have ever dealt with. They took us all over their country to visit some of their clinics. They wanted us to see what they have done and what is available for us to use. They showed us great kindness and didn’t ask anything in return. We trusted Iprosarude and gave them ownership of all the equipment and instruments that we left. In all the 5 previous Africa trips I have taken, trips to Bolivia and Peru I have never felt a connection and a real desire to help like I did in Burundi. They desperately need and want our help. I can’t wait to go back. We communicate daily on WhatsApp. I’m going to learn French.