2018 HEALTH AWARD HONOREE
Founder, Smiles Forever
In 1999, Sandy Kemper traveled to Bolivia, one of the poorest countries in Latin America, where more than 60% of the population does not have access to clean drinking water and 58% of families live in slums or in rural areas of the countryside. A dental hygienist by trade, Sandy was visiting Bolivia on a humanitarian trip to provide services to homeless children. She watched in horror as the doors to the shelter swung open and parents rushed forward with swollen-faced children screaming “please take my child first!” Many of these parents had traveled all night from remote towns to receive help, and in spite of the less-than-adequate conditions in the shelter, they administered oral surgery with only a flashlight and dental forceps. They extracted teeth until they were out of anesthetic, and even still, there were so many more children in need.
The last child they saw was in need of urgent care, and as she screamed in pain, they tied her to a papoose board to keep her still and performed life-saving surgery. As her parents left, Sandy offered them a toothbrush and a hug, which was all she had. Even worse, the pain inflicted on this young girl was 100% preventable.
Before it turned in to a life-threatening medical condition, she had a simple cavity.
In 2000, Sandy founded Smiles Forever in Cochabamba, Bolivia with one thought: dental hygiene can save lives. Smiles Forever improves the quality of life for impoverished children in Latin America through free preventative and restorative dentistry and nutritional education. In the past 18 years, more than 37,000 children have received completely free dental care, with a special emphasis on therapies to avoid extraction of teeth. The Foundation was the first to introduce Silver Diamine Fluoride, an antimicrobial agent that stops cavities without the use of painful anesthetic, drills or injections and the most effective treatment in stopping tooth decay, to Latin America. Their preventative-care program has greatly reduced conditions such as life-threatening abscesses, painful cavities, malnutrition, poor self-esteem and infrequent school attendance.
Smiles Forever has partnered with 34 shelter organizations that serve the area’s forgotten children. These are children that live with their parents in jail; blind children; children affected by HIV or cancer; children that have been abandoned due to alcohol or drug use; and children who suffer from physical deformities. These homes also treat children that have been severely burned due to parental negligence and accidents, as well as children born with malformations such as Craniofacial Microsomia and cleft palate.
37 disadvantaged Bolivian women, mostly single mothers, have graduated from the Smiles Forever Dental Hygiene School, the first of its kind in Latin America. The women enrolled in this two-year vocational program are often single mothers or pregnant teenagers who learn the trade of providing cleanings, fluoride, tooth brushing skills, and nutritional information to the children, while earning a consistent salary to support themselves and their families. Sandy is currently working with the Universidad Privada Abierta Latino Americana (UPAL), a local private university, to take over the dental hygiene program. This would allow her students to be educated alongside other students at the university, offering them the opportunity to learn the latest techniques of restorative and preventative dentistry.
To know Sandy is to know that her heart for children in need is larger than life. She and her husband Freddy Aranibar, a Bolivian lawyer, adopted two special-needs children who are now 10 years old and thriving in their new life and new home in Seattle, Washington.