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Medical mission a trip of a lifetime for Sewickley orthodontist, daughter

| Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2015, 1:06 p.m.
Sewickley orthodontist Lynn Remington (left) and her daughter, Cara Kennedy, a dental student at the University of Pittsburgh, were part of a medical mission to Madagascar in May and June. Here they are working in an airy hut with Gerald Dornhecker, a nurse who learned how to give anesthesia and to do sutures to assist the women’s work. The patient would soon be treated.
Sewickley orthodontist Lynn Remington and her daughter, Cara Kennedy, a dental student at the University of Pittsburgh, were part of a medical mission to Madagascar in May and June. Here they are working in an airy hut with Gerald Dornhecker, a nurse who learned how to give anesthesia and to do sutures to assist the women’s work.

Sometimes, people get more than they give.

Having returned from a medical mission trip to Madagascar, Lynn Remington, an orthodontist with offices in Sewickley and Moon, and her daughter, Cara Kennedy, would agree.

“The trip was 100 percent my fault,” said Kennedy, a dental student at the University of Pittsburgh and a 2011 Sewickley Academy graduate.

When she returned a few years ago from a visit to Cambodia, Kennedy, 22, regaled her mother with stories about how much she loved the adventure, calling it the “best thing I ever did.”

It didn't take her mother long to agree to visit Africa's largest island with International Medical Relief, an organization that recruits medical professionals and other volunteers for short-term assignments overseas where health care is limited or difficult to obtain.

Remington was happy to embark with her daughter at her side.

“I was lucky enough to go to dental school and to have the education,” Remington said. “I have gifts and time to share.”

But before that, she needed to review oral-surgery basics she had learned about 20 years ago. Textbooks were available, and generous colleagues allowed her to watch them perform procedures.

Patients and friends donated small items, such as vitamins, soaps, shampoo and cotton swabs she could leave in Madagascar. Her surgical dental supplies also were donated.

“I felt totally blessed before I left,” she said.

By May, confidence in her practical dental skills returned. Among the 21-person group of medical professionals and students, she and her daughter were in charge of the molars and incisors that needed care.

Kennedy set up and cleaned the equipment and comforted the patients, while Remington did the actual work.

A folding chair was set up in front of an open window to benefit from the daylight in villages without electricity, plumbing or running water.

“The rooster got all of us up at 5:30 a.m.,” Kennedy said about how they slept in shared beds in a hut in the middle of nowhere.

After a breakfast of rice and fruit, the members of the medical team were on their way. One morning, they took a tiny boat up river and arrived at their medical post after a 30-minute walk, Kennedy said.

She was struck by the poverty of the people and also the joy with which they lived.

“Singing is a big part of their culture,” she said. “It's a joyous occasion all the time.”

On clinic day, the people walked for miles and waited for hours for their checkups.

“There were more patients than I could see,” Remington said. “If we didn't keep on going, they would run out of care.”

And she was often running out of daylight — literally. Still the women worked, giving up lunch, until it was time for their evening meal around a communal table and rest to await the rooster's call.

“I'd go back tomorrow. I got so much out of it,” Remington said.

While life in Madagascar was primitive, she found the residents didn't need a lot to be happy.

“It was not chaotic and hectic, just basic and peaceful. They spend the whole day providing for a meal,” she said. “We just needed our sun blocker, ChapStick and water bottles.”

Both women had learned a world of new things, even as some old ideas had been reinforced.

“It was a lifetime experience,” said Remington, especially because she shared it with her daughter.

“Cara was my role model, not the reverse. She never complained about the rough conditions. Her work ethic was great. But most amazing was her ability to engage patients and people and laugh. It was wonderful to see.”

Dona S. Dreeland is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5803 or ddreeland@tribweb.com.

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