The sentiments below were written by Jeanne Hrovat, a staff member from Special Olympics Wisconsin, after she helped transport athletes to a Special Olympics-Mission of Mercy event in Wausau, Wisconsin on June 24. Mission of Mercy is a nation-wide organization that provides free dental care to people in need, and is currently working with Special Olympics Healthy Athletes on a pilot program in 4 states to provide dental follow-up to Special Olympics athletes.
Sometimes a name is simply that – a name. But sometimes, it says it all. What I witnessed in Wausau was truly a “Mission of Mercy.”
My role was to find five athletes between Madison and Wausau, whom I could pick up on my way to the event so they could get their teeth checked. When I left at 6 am that morning, I was feeling a bit sorry for myself having to get up so early. I missed my exit on the highway and became even more self-absorbed. I picked up the athletes who were all cheery and upbeat despite the fact that I was 15 minutes late and was driving them to a dentist two hours away. Their parents sat in their trucks and watched their children leave with a stranger who didn’t know when she’d be back.
This was my first wake-up call to the need.
We arrived in Wausau at 11:00 am and were promptly checked in at the separate registration with no waiting. Before I could get my head around what was happening, the first athlete, James, was sitting in the chair. James had been anxious on the car ride because he knew just enough about the dentist to be nervous. His coach suggested he come because his gums would start to bleed when he talked. Within 30 minutes, his teeth were clean and he had a new filling. He was all smiles.
Each athlete took their turn. Darlene got a filling and one tooth pulled. Ashley — no cavities – yah! DJ, fourteen-years-old hadn’t been to a dentist since he was seven. He was completely enamored with the numbing in his cheeks until he realized he had to have five teeth filled. It was Ashley’s hand he squeezed until it was blue. Anna, the most severe case, needed all four wisdom teeth pulled and two cavities filled.
I looked around and saw hundreds more. The need was widespread despite age, ethnicity, gender and even economic circumstances. The common thread: No insurance. No dentist.
The sea of purple-coated, capable, generous volunteers, hygienists, dentists, and surgeons. Dentist chairs ready and waiting for our Special Olympics athletes. The organization, efficiency and system. The kindness. The tears. The smiles.
People with the eyes to see the need, the head to pull it off and the heart filled with mercy.
What can I say?
Senior Director of Field Services and Initiatives
Special Olympics Wisconsin