Remote Area Medical needs many things in order to help people, but the willingness of volunteer professionals sits at the top of the list. Professionals like Dr. Nathaniel Sasson make our mission achievable. Dr. Sasson grew up in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. He graduated New York University’s dental program in 1981.
Dr. Sasson has volunteered his time at 29 clinics. His first clinic was in Harriman, Tennessee in April 2008. “In 2008, we did 10 clinics a year, RAM does three times as many now.” He first heard about RAM from a photo essay in The New York Times about the Wise, Virginia clinic. “I was looking for the right volunteer opportunity for a while and RAM fit the bill.” He felt that it was the right fit because he could take a direct flight to a potential clinic. There was also minimal disruption caused by office and family responsibilities. “It’s like my home away from home. Whenever I come down, I see people I see once every couple of years and everyone helps everyone. You’re not working alone, there is always a safety net, there’s always someone to help.”
Dr. Sasson has been volunteering so long that he has some interesting stories. He once volunteered at a clinic where the dental units were left in the trucks overnight. The water lines were frozen and the intraoral lighting was a floor lamp. However, he went on to say, “The spirit of the volunteers was what made the weekend special. Everyone banded together to make it work.”
He also has treated many patients who have affected him in a personal way. “RAM isn’t like the other clinics you go to; you see the need. There is always a patient of the weekend. One patient that makes the whole weekend worthwhile.” At a recent Huntsville, Tennessee clinic he talked about how the first patient of the day affected him. “She came down and waited since Wednesday night. She sat down in the chair and, unfortunately, we could not save any of her teeth, but she was ecstatically happy and for that one patient alone, you gotta come.”
Dr. Sasson told another story about a 45-year-old woman who came to a late October clinic for restorative services. She wanted to take holiday pictures with her children smiling and was in need of some dental work to make this possible. “I bonded her eight anterior teeth and told her they may last until Christmas.” Dr. Sasson saw her the following year at the Bristol clinic. She was ready for her teeth to be extracted, but first she happily showed him a great family photo from Christmas.
One of the many things that Dr. Sasson touched on at the Huntsville clinic was that of the importance of volunteers, adding, “People volunteer for many reasons, mostly deep and personal.” He pointed out how RAM relieves the suffering of hundreds of people per month. He feels that the most significant factor that limits helping people is a lack of trained professionals. “There are 20,000 dentists on the east coast. We just need 1,000 to come down here, and we will be in great shape. Until then there will be unmet need.”
Register to become a RAM Volunteer here: volunteer.ramusa.org