Live Chat
Washington State Dental Association

Temporal Shift: Life in Haiti, 2012

When third-year UWSoD student Inna Piskorska left for Haiti on March 16, she was fueled by adrenaline and the excitement of the unknown — and a little sleep depravation, too. After all, she had just finished finals week, and she had little time for sleep, let alone preparation for the trip to the quake-ravaged island. It was her first humanitarian mission — six students and three dentists traveling together to provide free, safe, and painless dental care to the poorest of the poor in the tiny country. Piskorska, who hails from the Ukraine, had witnessed abject poverty in her country, but nothing of the magnitude of what she saw in Haiti. She recalled the dusty ride in the back of a pickup truck that first day in Haiti — it was noon when they pulled into Port au Prince, and scores of people and animals were on the streets. In the city, many are still living in tents, selling their wares by the side of the road, trying to cobble together a meager existence. “My problems are nothing compared to theirs. Often it’s about something as basic as water, which they might have to walk blocks to get and bring back home to shower or cook with. Not a lot of people even have food – it’s a luxury item for many.” 

Piskorska was there as part of an ongoing effort by Medical Relief International, an organization started by WSDA members and 2011 Citizen of the Year, Dr. Mike Karr. Past WSDA Presidents Dr. Mark Walker and Dr. Jeff Parrish, both veterans of this type of humanitarian mission, were there to guide and mentor the students. 

Of the 17 people on the flight over – dentists, family and volunteers — most would stay in the capital — a smaller group, lead by Mark Walker, and including Piskorska, would travel north by plane to Cap Haitian, the country’s northernmost city. From there, they would travel another 90 minutes by truck to Ferrier, a small village, and their base camp for the five days. 

Piskorska clearly felt more at ease there, noting that in Port au Prince they were in a fortified enclosure of the local mission, discouraged from walking among the people. In Ferrier, however, they were able to walk freely and meet the locals. Arriving on a Sunday, they attended church, where the pastor revealed the nature of their visit to parishioners, and encouraged any with dental pain to attend the clinic. Piskorska smiles when she recalls the reaction of the people following the service, “After church, we walked the 10 minutes or so back to our facility, and people approached us in the street to open their mouths, point to a tooth, and tell us about their dental needs. It was sweet and funny.”

The next day, the scope of need would reveal itself to Piskorska and the others, as patient after patient came to the makeshift clinics for care. In fact, that first day was the only one in their time in Haiti that they didn’t send people away at the end of the day. Together, they saw 176 people in five days, with each patient needing an average of three extractions. Prior to coming to Haiti, Piskorska had only performed five extractions. On the island, she did that many after working with her first three patients – it was an eye-opening experience. “By the time they got to the clinic, most were in pain and it was too late to save the tooth, so it was best to extract. Some looked like something out of a scary movie, with broken root tips extending past the gum line. In truth, we had limited supplies and equipment to perform restorative work.” She found her skills and her organization improving with each day. And, she was discovering which techniques and instruments worked best for her, saying “I learned to be as organized as possible so that I could see as many patients as I could, but ultimately it came down to time, supplies, and human forces – we didn’t have enough to see more patients.” With a newfound confidence, Piskorska says she’s faster, and not afraid to do surgical extractions or flaps — the experience has literally made her a better dentist already.

Would she do it again? As a matter of fact, she’s already committed to another trip, this time to Jamaica at the end of August. The group is comprised of 24 UWSoD students, and other students from San Francisco. It would seem that Haiti was only the beginning of her philanthropic efforts around the world!


Inna Piskorska would like to say a special thanks to Pacific Continental Bank and Designs for Vision for their help in making the trip possible. 


Posted: / Last Updated: