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| March 5, 2015

Ashley, a shy, introverted fourth grader, was never one to complain. But she was also never one to smile. In the year that nurse Susan had been at Ashley’s elementary school, she had never once seen Ashley grin. Then, when Healthe Kids Screenings came to the school, the nurse found out why.

Part of Healthe Kids’ well-child screenings involves asking students about their dental hygiene—if they brush their teeth, how often, if they floss—and checking their teeth for signs of possible cavities. Ashley, an already soft-spoken nine-year-old, became even more bashful when the Healthe Kids nurse asked Ashley to open her mouth.

The screening nurse called over another Healthe Kids nurse, Tabetha, to help.

“You could tell Ashley was kind of embarrassed. She didn’t say much and she didn’t want to open her mouth and show us,” recalled nurse Tabetha. “She even teared up a little bit.”

Though Ashley told the nurse she brushed twice a day, Tabetha noticed severe dental decay in her mouth. Ashley had the remnants of roots from four baby teeth still in her gums. She had two teeth broken at the gumline, causing swelling and inflammation. She also had decay on seven other teeth—decay that was eating through the enamel and creating holes in the teeth. When asked about pain, Ashley said it hurt most of the time when she ate or drank anything.

“By the look of the decay, I assumed she had been experiencing pain for a significant amount of time. She probably didn’t eat a meal in which she didn’t experience some sort of pain,” Tabetha surmised. “It was sad to see her so embarrassed, it was sad to see her in pain, and I knew I would do whatever I could to get her help and get her fixed and on the road to recovery.”

Tabetha went to the school nurse, Susan, and explained Ashley’s situation. The two talked about what steps they could take to get Ashley care, and how they could get Ashley’s mom involved.

Susan spoke with the mom and soon found out that though Ashley had health insurance, she did not have dental coverage. Any cost associated with the extensive dental work she needed would have to be paid out of pocket, and Ashley’s mom couldn’t afford it. So Tabetha informed Susan that the First Hand Foundation might be able to provide funding for dental restoration.

The Healthe Kids team, First Hand and school nurse all worked together to quickly secure funding for Ashley, and a local dentist provided his services at a greatly discounted rate.

Under sedation, Ashley had several teeth pulled and even more composited. Soon after treatment, Susan saw Ashley smile for the first time.

“She is now all smiles, saying she doesn’t have anymore pain in her mouth!” exclaimed Susan.

But the most profound difference, she believed, was with Ashley’s mom.

“After talking with the mom, I got the feeling that she carried some guilt because she knew Ashley’s teeth were bad and she didn’t have the financial means to get them fixed for her. The guilt, coupled with some personal concerns she was dealing with, created an almost hopeless situation for her,” Susan disclosed. “I believe it was the right place, the right time and the right people to show the mom that someone really did care about her and her child.”

Susan continued, “I’m a hugger and I put my arms around Ashley’s mom and she cried into my shoulder. So much was expressed without words. What Healthe Kids and First Hand are doing matters! Not only are they giving information and options, but they are giving hope.”

Even before Ashley’s experience, Susan was a huge fan of the Healthe Kids program.

“My own son goes to my school and of course he is screened by Healthe Kids. I am always anxious to get the results myself because of how much I trust them. Healthe Kids is thorough and professional, and they are just lovely with the way they communicate with the kids.”

She also has a soft spot for First Hand.

“I have a niece and nephew that both work for Cerner Corporation (First Hand’s founding company) and I asked them in passing if they donate to First Hand. They both said yes. I told them I have kids in my school who are directly benefitting from their generosity—that their donations matter. I always choke up a little when I talk about it because it’s so profound, the difference it can make in a kid’s life.”

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