BRISTOL, Va. – Nema Shaffer says that living with a severe respiratory ailment –that requires her to use an oxygen apparatus – is challenging on its own.

But when one of the effects of her illness – a constantly dry mouth – caused many of her teeth to rapidly decay and begin falling out, Shaffer says she felt a level of concern that’s hard, even today, to accurately describe.

“It’s hard to really put into words how alarming it was,” Shaffer says, sitting in her Bristol home with husband, Richard. “It was hard to eat and I was scared to do anything that might make more teeth come out. I just felt really helpless, seeing my teeth just gradually fall out.”

But Shaffer has made the journey from feeling helpless to relieved – due to the help of Healing Hands, a Bristol, Tenn., non-profit organization that helps many residents get desperately needed dental care at little or no cost.

After consulting with Shaffer and her husband, Healing Hands arranged for the senior citizen to undergo extensive dental surgery – in two stages – to remove all of her remaining teeth and replace them with a full set of dentures.

The work was done by Dr. Sam Molind, a Bristol medical missionary who has been nationally acclaimed for his work in oral and maxillofacial surgery and now serves as Healing Hands’ staff dental surgeon.

But, post-surgery, what Shaffer still remains grateful for – in addition to her new dentures – is the generous spirit shown by both Healing Hands and Dr. Molind throughout her ordeal.

“Healing Hands were so supportive, so caring, and before the surgery began, Dr. Molind prayed with me,” Shaffer said. “Then, after the surgery, he called me up to ask how I was doing – and that just about floored me. But it really shows how much Healing Hands just cares about people, and about trying to help them. What they did for me was really a life-saving thing.”

It’s life-saving, life-changing work that Healing Hands has the power to do through support from the United Way of Bristol. Healing Hands is among 29 area nonprofit agencies that receive financial and other support from the United Way, which annually helps thousands across the Tri-Cities. The chapter has been conducting its annual regional fundraising campaign, with a goal of raising at least $1.3 million.

And the campaign theme for the United Way’s fundraising effort has made clear what’s at stake: “A Good Place to Give Makes a Better Place to Live.”

Healing Hands – which has a small staff and some 200 volunteers across the community – has assisted more than 6,000 uninsured and other financially challenged residents over the past decade or so.

The agency has helped residents receive major and other necessary dental work – including multiple tooth-removal and bridge work. And it does so at an extremely low cost: instead of high payment requirements, Healing Hands simply asks a patient to make an affordable contribution to the organization.

“We’ve been able to help many people enjoy a much better quality of life, just by allowing them to live without severe dental pain,” says Helen Scott, Healing Hands’ executive director.

“It’s very gratifying to see how many people we can help, people who otherwise might not receive the dental help they badly need.”

Scott says the United Way of Bristol not only provides valuable money that allows Healing Hands to meet its annual budgets, it helps connect Healing Hands with other social-services organizations that can share invaluable support, insight and information.

“Just from working hand in hand with the United Way, we get a lot of name recognition and credibility that would be extremely hard for us to build on our own,” Scott says. “It’s given us a tremendous opportunity to network with [other groups] and work together on the medical issues that continue to face our communities.”

Adds Scott: “We’re very grateful for the support we get from the United Way. It helps us on so many levels. [Without it] we couldn’t do much of what we do.”

Like allowing Nema Shaffer to rediscover the joy of eating normally again – and living life without dread and pain.

“They are truly God-sent,” Shaffer says of Healing Hands. “They have really let me have my life back. I absolutely love them and what they do.”

Reprinted with permission:  Bristol Herald Courier

Roger Brown

(276) 645-2512

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