March 17, 2010
A Brother’s Love
By Jennifer Garvin
Las Vegas—John Ferrin wanted to do something that would both honor his late brother and take care of the veterans he spent his life admiring.
As a student at the University of Nevada Las Vegas School of Dental Medicine, dentistry is John’s passion—and he hoped that a dental clinic dedicated to improving the oral health of soldiers would serve as the perfect tribute to his brother and a great way to get involved with donating care.
What began as an idea in October 2007 quickly became a reality, and in July 2008 the Sergeant Clint Ferrin Memorial Clinic opened the doors to its first patients. Initially treating those troops deemed non-deployable because of oral disease, the clinic has since expanded to include all veterans who can’t afford care.
For that initiative and for its significant contribution to student outreach, UNLV was the 2009 recipient of the ADA Foundation Bud Tarrson Dental School Student Community Leadership Award.
“This selfless effort by these dental students exemplifies what the ADA Foundation and the Tarrson Access to Oral Health Care Award are all about,” said Dr. Arthur A. Dugoni, president, ADA Foundation. “We are improving the lives and dental health of others by connecting people and investing in the human potential of so many individuals.”
Added Linda Tarrson, who initiated the award in honor of her late husband, Bud, “There were so many outstanding applicants but this program, to me, personified the award.
I’m extremely proud of the UNLV program and its students for their desire to go beyond what is expected and to be of service to those in the community who are in such need of oral health care.”
The first UNLV clinic treated 19 patients and the school has since put on six additional clinics, with about 30 patients receiving free treatment at each session, including more than 100 veterans. The clinic is operated by UNLV dental students but supervised by Nevada licensed dentists and provides a full range of treatment including restorations, root canal therapy, extractions, crowns and dentures.
John’s brother, Clint, was a member of the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division. He died while serving in Iraq in 2004.
John said the seed for the clinic was planted about two years ago when he first started dental school. He remembered how his brother suffered from tooth pain but didn’t want to take time off to visit a dentist. The pain persisted and he eventually lost one of his lateral incisors during a training accident at work. It would be two years before he would bother to get a low-cost prosthesis to replace it. Meanwhile, he was in pain and wouldn’t smile.
“It’s kind of a stigma in the military to take a day off just to deal with a tooth,” said John, who is now in his third year.
“When these men and women are out in these high stress atmospheres, they ignore their oral health,” he said, “and the effects of that last for years.”
In its application for the award, UNLV dental student Jarom Mauer summarized John’s belief that the clinic chooses to serve veterans because “these individuals often have inadequate access to care because they are not currently on active duty” and thus, “not eligible for military benefits.”
Clint was a hero to John, who described a memory of visiting a cemetery near where the family used to live in Mississippi.
Together, he, Clint and their youngest brother, Brandon, cleaned dirt and leaves off the tombstones of veterans and then placed small flags at the graves.
“It wasn’t Memorial Day or anything,” he said. “It was just an ordinary day.”
John said the money from the Tarrson Award will be used to support the clinic. Doctors and students have been great about donating their time, he said, but the clinic relies on local businesses for supplies. For instance, one laboratory donates denture cases, but “we still have to pay for the prosthetic teeth.”
The ADA Foundation created the E. Bud Tarrson Access to Oral Health Care Award in 2003 in honor of philanthropist Bud Tarrson, former chief executive officer and owner of the John O. Butler Company. Each year, the award recognizes one exemplary volunteer community service project developed by dental students enrolled in a predoctoral dental education program.
It is John’s hope that other dental schools will take on similar projects helping veterans.
“It’s a really good feeling,” he said. “One of my soft spots is watching the faculty and students volunteer. It’s really inspiring!”
After graduation in 2011, John said he plans to finish out his own assignment in the National Guard and enter general practice.
John said he thinks about his brother all the time. He misses him and considers him his personal hero, but there is one thing that makes him smile.
“He hated attention,” he said. “He’d be happy for the veterans but embarrassed it was happening in his name.”
For more information about the Tarrson Award or other ADA Foundation programs, visit www.adafoundation.org.