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Auburn dentist relieves suffering in Mexico

Steve Leighty spearheads NorCal Clinic teams
By: Gloria Young Journal Staff Writer
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Community service is something oral surgeon Steve Leighty learned from an early age. ?My dad was a general dentist and he taught me that part of the responsibility of the privilege of being a dentist is to give back to people who are under-advantaged or disadvantaged,? he said. ?I believe very strongly in that ethic and in trying to pass it along to others.? Leighty, whose practice is on High Street in Auburn, travels to Ensenada, Mexico to provide dental services to those in need. The NorCal Dental Clinic program partners with Rotary?s Thousand Smiles Foundation, which owns a building in Ensenada. ?Four times a year they take doctors, nurses and surgeons down there and treat kids who have cleft palate or cleft lip,? he said about Thousand Smiles. ?They do that work on a volunteer basis and for free to patients.? It was a model that impressed Leighty, who is a member of Auburn Rotary. ?We discovered that great program down there and after participating a few times, asked if we could bring some ? dentists down a few times a year and borrow their clinic,? he said. Since 2005, NorCal Dental Clinic volunteers ? dentists, hygienists and administrative workers ? have been traveling to Mexico twice a year. ?The miracle of this is because we have this agreement with Thousand Smiles, the dental clinic they have is completely self-contained,? he said. ?They have materials, instruments, the chairs, lifts, all the medicines gloves and masks. So we just have to bring our own clothes and just show up and work there. In turn, we donate equipment we receive and transport equipment and supplies down there on a case-by-case basis to help refurbish some of their supplies.? A group of people living in Ensenada provides translation, patient screening and pre-visit tasks. NorCal?s services include fillings, extractions, some biopsies, ?and maybe a root canal from time to time,? Leighty said. ?Occasionally we can fix someone?s dentures.? During the most recent trip earlier this month, volunteers treated approximately 100 patients. ?We work all day Friday and Saturday,? he said. ?After all day Friday, we have dinner together at a local restaurant. Everyone says who they are and how they got there and found out about (the program). (This time) we had about 40 volunteers ? that counts translators, administrative people, wives and sisters and husbands.? Many of the patients are from nearby indigenous villages, bused to the clinic through the efforts of Comunidad para Baja, a Los Gatos-based nonprofit that focuses on health and education needs of the indigenous people of Northern Mexico. Others who come to the dental clinic are from various welfare groups, battered women?s shelters and ?we?ve even taken care of people at the school for the blind,? Leighty said. The clinics see all ages. ?In fact, many come in as a family. We?ll treat mom and dad and the kids,? he said. Some patients may visit only once. While others return for additional care. ?Over the years, we can see the dental health improve,? Leighty said. ?Now when they come in, instead of having teeth pulled, we do a cleaning. Teeth cleaning is an important service we give them. Occasionally volunteers will bring down clothes, books, pencils or toys to pass on to the patients who come in.? Some of those who visit the clinic make a strong impression. ?There was a patient who had some facial deformities ? birth defects,? Leighty said. ?One of the translators told me she had been coming to Ensenada when she (heard) a dental clinic (would be there). She had been there several times but had arrived too late and was unable to get in. She arrived this time, but it was after the cutoff. A translator came up and explained it and asked if we?d see and evaluate her. She had an infected tooth and I was able to take out that tooth for her. ? She?d had a lot of other problems and a rough life, but she left with a big smile on her face because she left the building without this toothache that had been bothering her for a year and a half.? NorCal Dental members volunteer from around the region. Ann Hendricks, who belongs to Nevada City 49er Breakfast Rotary Club, has been part of the effort since the beginning. ?We?ve been doing it long enough that we?re seeing really significant improvement in patients? teeth,? she said. ?They started coming in with a lot of cavities and problems. But now there is progress in taking care of themselves and their children growing up. And the camaraderie of the groups we work with is just fabulous.? Auburn dentist Edward Weiss has traveled with Leighty to work at the Mexico clinic and the two have traveled to other places around the world, including Nepal and New Guinea. ?On a personal level, I find doing this kind of work wonderfully rewarding from the standpoint of the response I get from people who otherwise wouldn?t be able to get this kind of services and to work with people who donate their time, energies and their finances to this kind of effort,? Weiss said. ?They tend to be just wonderful folks and wonderful to work with.? Leighty moved his oral and maxillofacial surgery clinic from Grass Valley to the Courtyard Professional Center in Auburn last year. He enjoys the opportunity to help those in need not only in Mexico, but also at home. ?All of us who are involved in this work in Mexico also work in numerous charities and humanitarian projects in California and Placer County as well,? he said. ?We?re involved in a number of other projects (locally).? Reach Gloria Young at gloriay@goldcountrymedia.com. ------------ For more information on making a donation to the NorCal Dental Clinic program or to Rotary?s Thousand Smiles program, visit auburncarotary.org or thousandsmiles.org