Dawn vividly remembers the day she left her abusive husband. She woke up in a hospital, skull fractured, ribs broken, face scarred. Her teeth were destroyed. She had lost everything: her job, her house, her self-respect. Her first three months of freedom, she slept on a mattress on the floor, still so fearful of her life that she faced the door with a loaded gun. Resilient by nature, Dawn spent months trying to rebuild her confidence, but when she looked in the mirror, she only saw her physical scars, reminders of a painful past. She only found jobs where she could stay hidden, covering up her facial scars with makeup, always putting her hand over her mouth to hide what once was a confident smile. She was ashamed of the way she looked.
Struggling financially, there was no way that Dawn could afford the expense of restorative dental work so badly needed. A domestic abuse advocate told her about a dental program called Give Back a Smile that helped victims of domestic violence. Dawn applied to the program, and two months later, she received a letter in the mail from a cosmetic dentist in Chandler, Arizona, Dr. Robert Walker. Summoning her courage, Dawn called Dr. Walker’s office and heard the comforting words, “We’ve been expecting your call.”
Inspired by his sister who started a non-profit organization for domestic violence victims, Dr. Walker got involved in Give Back a Smile (GBAS) three years ago by simply wanting to do his part. He was all too familiar with domestic violence cases, not just the physical damage inflicted on victims, but the emotional toll it took as well. On Dawn’s first visit, he listened to Dawn's story; a once successful woman, a grandmother who had survived ovarian cancer and still had more to give. Dr. Walker knew that she had the potential to turn her life around. Unfortunately, Dawn’s teeth were not restorable. Her dentition was almost non-existent due to long term abuse and stress from clenching and grinding. Undeterred, Dr. Walker called a local colleague and oral surgeon, Dr. Leslie Fish, who teamed up with Robert to help Dawn. Dawn refers to Dr. Walker and Dr. Fish as her angels.
After several visits, Dr. Walker removed her non- restorable teeth on the maxillary arch and gave her a new denture to restore her smile. The impact on Dawn’s life was enormous. "GBAS gave me back the dignity my abuser had robbed me of. I no longer look in the mirror and see a tarnished woman. I see a beautiful smile and light in that woman’s eyes. I have become the selfie queen!” Dr. Walker saw firsthand the enormous difference he and Dr. Fish made in Dawn’s life, not only giving back Dawn's smile but the confidence to move forward. Dawn is now getting her doctorate in counseling and working towards her dream of advocating for other women trapped in abusive relationships.
Being a part of GBAS has given Dr. Walker a new perspective on his profession. "After being dentists for many years, we forget about what an impact we can make on someone’s life. The smallest gesture from us can make a life changing impact on others. All dentists should be involved in giving back and paying it forward.”
Staci was brutally attacked in 2004. GBAS volunteer Dr. John Sullivan and Team restored her smile and so much more. Learn more about Staci's story in this article authored by Nancy Lashley and published by the Progressive Dentist Magazine.