Two New Fairfield Dentists Volunteer to Heal the Children
Drs. Lorraine Burio and Ursula Potkay provide much-needed dental care to children in a remote area of MoroccoMarch is a good time for New Englanders to take a vacation. Many travel south for the sunny warmth of a beach resort while others journey north to enjoy the longer days and mild temperatures of spring skiing.But for two New Fairfield dentists — Dr. Lorraine Burio, whose office is on Route 39, and Dr. Ursula Potkay, whose practice is on Milltown Road in nearby Brewster, NY –- March isn’t a time for relaxing.
The two dentists are working harder this first week in March than at any other time of the year as they volunteer their time and professional skills to bring much-needed dental services to several hundred impoverished children living in a remote area of Morocco.
Both are volunteering with Healing the Children Northeast, a humanitarian organization that arranges missions to provide medical and dental services to children abroad whose families don’t have access to or cannot afford the services.
Aside from generously donating their time and skills, both Drs. Burio and Potkay also pay their own travel expenses to the North African nation and even furnish some of the needed supplies.
This is the first mission abroad for Dr. Burio, who was introduced to HTCNE by a former dental hygienist and previously supported HTCNE with financial contributions. “The timing wasn’t right before for me to take a brief leave from my New Fairfield practice,” she says. “But I believed in the organization and wanted to help financially.
“This year, I am able to get away and ‘give back’ a bit. We are blessed in New Fairfield with so much that I felt I needed to share some of our blessings with those who are less fortunate.”
For Dr. Potkay, this is her second mission abroad. She previously traveled to a rural part of Guatemala, where she served as part of a team that provided basic dental care to more than 1,000 children from several remote villages.
While the hours were long, she says the experience of helping so many children that urgently needed basic services – which are often taken for granted in the U.S. – was spiritual. “We provided essential care that was just not available to them,” she explained. “We quickly corrected painful situations that otherwise have would lingered and evolved into even more serious problems.”
Despite the brief interaction between patient and dentist, it is not uncommon for the professionals to become attached to the children in need. “One child, in particular,” she says, “a six-year-old whose mother had just died, won our hearts.”
“Morocco is new territory for us,” explains Dana Buffin, a Sherman resident who is executive director of the New Milford-based NTCNE and the coordinator for the trip. “We hope to treat 700 to 800 children in the Ben Guerir region, which is about 50 kilometers north of Marrakesh. We expect to provide basic oral hygiene instruction, extractions, cleanings and restorative services.”
The total value of those services is estimated at $250,000 to $400,000. The 16-member HTCNE team is working in conjunction with a Swiss organization, Carrefour Sante and the Foundation Rhamna.
Accompanying Dr. Burio on the trip is her office manager, Lisa James, who will serve as her dental assistant, a job she held many years ago. Ms. James says she is “excited to be at Dr. Burio’s side once again” as she provides direct services, such as extractions, to children in urgent need of dental care.
“We won’t have many of the basics that we use here everyday, such as X-ray equipment and detailed medical histories and the ability to follow-up,” she explains. “But we will be helping many children who are in pain and have no other alternative. Dr. Burio has years of dental experience and I’m trilled to be able to help her as she helps these children.”
Accompanying Dr. Potkay on the trip is her daughter Margaret, a recent graduate of New Fairfield High School, who also studied international relations in college. Margaret is not a dental professional, but she is learning to speak Arabic, so she will serve as a general helper on the trip and will aid in translations.
Margaret is already experienced in the Middle East, having previously spent a month in Israel. She is volunteering on this trip to “help the children in need, learn more about the Middle East, and experience the Moroccan culture first hand.”
Thanks to the generosity of volunteer medical and dental professionals who have donated their time and professional skills, HTCNE has provided free medical, dental and surgical care to more than 33,000 children in the abroad and in the U.S.
HTCNE dispatches at least 15 volunteer surgical and dental teams each year to less developed countries for periods of 7-10 days. Dental teams are planned for El Salvador, Brazil and Peru later this year. Volunteer dental professionals, including hygienists and assistants, are in great need. For more information visit www.htcne.org or call 860 355 1828 x 29.