Timonium-based foundation brings dental, medical care to those in need in Ecuador
By Nelson Coffin
Dec 10, 2018 at 5:00 AM
The joy of giving to others is not just a holiday happening for Tammy Fesche.
The Lutherville resident embraces that attitude all year long, primarily by running a nonprofit she founded 30 years ago that is dedicated to bringing medical and dental aid to the poor in her native Ecuador.
The Timonium-based Ecuadent Foundation is her labor of love, a vehicle to give back as much as she can to folks in need of help in the South American nation that she left as a teen to attend high school in the United States.
Even though Fesche, 60, has resided in this country more than two decades longer than she lived in her homeland, a big part of her heart remains in Ecuador.
“I always had the mindset to go back and help my country,” said Fesche, an administrator for dental practices, including her husband’s practices in Westminster and Finksburg. “For me, it was a responsibility. I saw the poverty. I saw the need.”
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Ecuadent’s office is located in the building that houses the Timonium Family Dentistry practice where she and her only assistant, Ryan Coster, keep the nonprofit’s overhead low and its work ethic and spirit of giving high.
Tammy Fesche said that she learned from a young age that helping others is the right thing to do.
“My father was in the Ecuaderean military, so we moved around often,” she said. “When we would travel between cities, I would see all the poverty (in the rural areas). I would go with my mother in the mornings when she would bring coffee and bread to people.”
Fesche said that after graduating from high school in Astoria, Queens, N.Y., she attended Fairleigh Dickinson University, where she met her future husband, who was in dental school. She later transferred and graduated from the University of Vermont.
After moving to Baltimore, she said that she began volunteering with the American Cancer Society, adding that she sold daffodils door to door to raise funds.
Fesche then became one of the first female members of her local Rotary Club in Westminster.
All the while, she said that the idea of helping impoverished and ill Ecuadoreans was on her mind.
To say the route back to her native land was circuitous is an understatement, considering that her first major volunteering trip was to help orphans in the former USSR.
For that maiden voyage, she gathered a band of dentists to join her on the venture, which became a blueprint for how Ecuadent would eventually operate.
The idea was to get the dentists — and eventually other medical personnel — to pay their own airfare while Ecuadent picks up the tab for food, lodging and transportation within the host country.
Fesche said that Ecuadent, which relies on grants and donations to provide free medical and dental care for Ecuadoreans in need, recently received a $4,000 grant from the Mia Sutphin Foundation.
She added that she is always so grateful “to all the local donors, kind people, Rotarians, and volunteers who contribute their time, energy, and funding to make sure that Ecuadent continues helping as many children as possible, year after year.”
Sutphin, a 1992 Notre Dame Preparatory School grad, was only 27 when she died of a reaction to medication she was taking to combat malaria while volunteering at an orphanage for HIV-infected children in Kenya, according to the organization’s website, miasutphingmf.org.
Earning grants of all sizes is essential for nonprofit operations, something Fesche learned early in her career running the organization.
“I had to build a record to get nonprofit designation [for Ecuadent],” she said. “I had to sell the idea [to the dentists] to make it work.”
Since starting Ecuadent, Fesche said that she has taken 75 trips back to Ecuador while treating approximately 35,000 children.
“Even from the outside, when you know [Ecuadent] teams have traveled for nearly 30 years to help people, somebody at the helm is doing something right,” said Deborah Skovron, a post-anesthesia coordinator who plans to make her 19th trip with Ecuadent in early 2019. “It’s Tammy’s tenacity that has guided Ecuadent to make such a significant impact on people’s lives.”
Each trip, including the most recent one last October, costs $75,000.
The logistics of shipping physicians, anesthesiologists, medical technicians, physician assistants, nurses and interpreters — along with their medical equipment, water filters, clothing and school supplies for the children in 40-cubic-feet cargo containers — is a huge undertaking.
The Ecuadorean Navy helps to usher Ecuadent’s medical personnel, who take commercial flights, through customs upon arrival.
In October, Ecuadent physicians and dentists treated more than 1,100 Ecuadorian kids and performed 58 medical procedures, including surgeries.
A 10-day excursion for surgical personnel that embarks Feb. 7 and another that leaves Feb. 14 for the dental staff — with a return date of Feb. 26 — are Ecuadent’s next ventures to Ecuador.
Helping to aid those with congenital deformities has become a focal point for the medical teams, in addition to addressing more routine oral issues, such as teeth cleaning, applying teeth sealants and giving fluoride treatments.
And there are serious medical and dental problems that also need to be addressed, including the special case of a young boy, Nhey Avila, who has drawn the attention of the organization because of his severe cleft lip disfiguration, which is partly due to malnutrition.
Before that issue is remedied, the youngster’s other major ailment, a severe heart condition, will need to be resolved through surgery in the U.S..
According to a member of the Ecuadent medical team, David Kung, he will then operate on the 3-year-old for “multiple cranial and facial anomalies.”
So far, the drive to raise money for the “Nhey’s New Smile” campaign is a long way from its goal.
“We have raised $1,000 for Nhey so far,” Coster said. “Our goal is $200,000, which will go towards the surgery, transportation to this country for Nhey and his father, and room and board for the duration of their stay.”
Kung, a plastic surgeon whose practice is in Chevy Chase, was recruited by Tammy Fesche to join Ecuadent and he has responded by making at least 10 trips to Ecuador.
He said that she is “passionate about this. It’s her country and it’s special to her.”
She and her fellow Ecuadent volunteers are even more passionate about helping Nhey overcome his life-threatening medical conditions.
To help, donations can be made directly to the Ecuadent Foundation, 109 Old Padonia Road, Cockeysville, MD 21030, or electronically through PayPal (paypal.me/ecuadentfoundation) or Go Fund Me (www.gofundme.com/fixnheyheart).