BY DEBORAH RUPRECHT DH ’88, DDS ’95, PERIO ’99
The big thought that science is a world of endless discovery came to me at the age of 10. Captivated by the veins of a leaf I viewed through a microscope my parents gave me for Christmas, I found myself lost in a microcosm of detail that surpassed any other interest I had found. This was the genesis of my life’s journey.
Along with my profound childhood discovery, I had extraordinary parents. My mom has a servant heart and spends her life helping people maintain their well-being through health and nutrition.
My dad was an entrepreneur and mentor who helped others develop businesses to support their families. Together, they showed me that serving others creates a life of purpose, and giving brings meaning far beyond other pursuits. Consequently, I worked as a tutor for first-grade students, a “candy striper,” and a volunteer with both Rotary International and the American Cancer Society.
With my love of science and passion to serve others, I eventually found dentistry as the avenue to fulfill both interests — and dental mission work as its ultimate expression. Working with SmileOnU.org, a nonprofit organization that improves lives through dentistry, I help organize and support trips to developing countries. These trips affect everyone involved from the patients we heal to the volunteers who can experience moments of life-changing perspective.
“Our profession is a journey of improving the human condition. Repairing teeth is our vehicle, and compassion is our roadway.”
DH ’88, DDS ’95, PERIO ’99
One such moment for me was on our medical/dental mission in Cambodia where we cared for more than 3,000 adults and children. I came across a boy about 5 years old in a rice field near Phnom Penh as his family worked. He wore only a loin cloth and was covered from head to toe in mud. Just skin and bones, he stood crying with his hands extended to me. I took three steps forward and fell to my knees in tears.
In that moment, I saw every blessing of my life flash through my mind. I said to myself, “This is not right. I need to do more.” A newly arrived American in a developing country, I had received the fuel I needed to run the dental clinic where we would work for the next week.
At our clinic, I saw precious souls with few resources but enduring joy. We treated people in pain who just needed access to basic dentistry to relieve their suffering. With an exemplary USC education and more than 20 years of practicing dentistry at a high standard, I realized how easy it was to help with the basics on a grand scale. I experienced for myself the reward in serving others that my parents shared with me. I became hooked on giving at this level.
I had another rich experience on our recent dental mission to an orphanage in northern India. The 50 or so orphans there thrive under the devotion of a woman who left the United States to spend the past three decades giving them the best life possible. She and her staff provide for all their needs, which includes arranging for health care professionals like us to visit.
Expecting to find poverty, malnourishment and poor health, we found abundant love and care instead. After arriving as strangers, it felt like leaving family behind when it was time to say goodbye.
Each experience is unique and has its own jewel of what we give and receive in the small price of our sacrifice.
Our profession is a journey of improving the human condition. Repairing teeth is our vehicle, and compassion is our roadway. Who we become along our journey is the gift we give ourselves and to every other person within our reach.
This story originally appeared in the TroDent, the official publication for the Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC. Read more stories like this in our Spring 2018 issue.
Posted May 2018