Patients from an array of strife-ravaged nations turned up at a Lakewood dental clinic Saturday that offered a one-day free clinic for refugees.
There was Ehsan Al Kaysi, 37, who brought his non-English-speaking wife and four children from Iraq to Tukwila three months ago.
Fighting a stiff jaw after a filling and the removal of a tooth, he spoke of his gratitude for the treatment after the daunting international move.
“I’ve kind of neglected myself just for my family,” Al Kaysi said.
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Across a crowded waiting room stood Kamil Amiri, 30, formerly of Afghanistan and now living in Kent.
He filled out forms on a clipboard while his wife and four young children sat piled into two chairs. Just 23 days after arriving in America, Amiri had a broken tooth and a family in need of various treatments.
The clinic, he said, was a welcome place to find himself after the rigors of fleeing a homeland where his work as a driver for the U.S. Embassy put him in peril from anti-American countrymen.
“My life was in danger,” Amiri said.
For the day, the dental clinic filled with dozens of new Northwesterners from trouble spots across the globe. While an Iranian patient’s anesthesia kicked in, dentist David Stevens took a moment to explain that his clinic, Dental Health Associates, schedules at least one day yearly for goodwill work. News of refugee crises had led the staff to seek out the Pacific Northwest Refugee Association and the International Rescue Committee.
The patients arrived for free treatments by the vanload.
“There are a lot of people who have been displaced,” Stevens said. “There’s a big need.”
Stevens said that in the past, the four-dentist office’s cost for running a free treatment day has been between $30,000 and $40,000, between paying for staff, treatment material and lost opportunities to treat other patients.
“When you’re a dentist, you’re giving away your time,” Stevens said, “but it feels really good to be giving something back to the community.”
Nicky Smith, executive director of the International Rescue Committee’s Seattle office, said her agency had helped settle 640 families this year in the Puget Sound region, mainly in south King County. The area has been receptive to her agency’s resettlement work, and a new Spokane office is planned.
“Some other states are less welcoming to refugees,” Smith said.
The friendly reception at the Lakewood dental clinic manifested itself in ways beyond fillings and floss. Local families toted in food trays and baskets of clothing to donate, then hung around to help the patients practice their English with tell-me-about-your-country chats.
“We’ve really been overwhelmed with the support of people,” said Jennifer Stevens, a hygienist at the clinic and David Stevens’ wife.