UMSOD Alumnus Provides Aid to Ukrainian Refugees in Poland

June 1, 2022 

Three dentists pose with a large Easter egg in the Ukraine

Imagine having to flee your home with only what you can carry on your back and your young children by your side. Unfortunately, this was the reality for millions of Ukrainians when Russia began a wide-scale invasion on Feb. 24, 2022.

As Ukrainians fled to safe havens in neighboring countries Poland, Romania, Moldova, Hungary, and Slovakia, they came with nothing but the clothes on their backs, and with no extra room or energy to bring money or supplies. It was easy for essential care to fall by the wayside as people focused on survival. While the world watched the horrors in Ukraine unfold, UMSOD alumnus Jay McCarl, DDS ’84, decided it was time to take action and help in the best way he knew how — by providing free dental care to Ukrainian refugees in Poland. Hailing from a family of well-established dentists, McCarl was no stranger to volunteer work. Previously, he volunteered with the Dominican Dental Mission Project (DDMP) alongside fellow alumnus Frank Serio, DMD, CERTG (Periodontics) ’86, MS ‘91, DPS ’21, which provided free dental services in the Dominican Republic.

Three volunteer dentists in Ukraine wave from a shipping containerWhen reading news stories about humanitarian trips abroad, one might see statistics on the number of people who received aid. One might read anecdotes of the kindness of strangers uniting to help others in dire need. However, one is unlikely to read about and truly understand the behind-the-scenes management required to offer critical humanitarian assistance in a disaster relief situation. McCarl immersed himself in the project, tackling difficult tasks such as coordinating with global nonprofit organizations to establish a mobile dental clinic, adding highly trained staff members to set up the clinic and provide care to refugees, and raising money to pay for the flights, lodging, and supplies that his team would need to be successful.

In a time of crisis and in less-than-ideal working conditions, volunteers were called upon to provide care without much of the technology we take for granted in modern dental practices. The volunteer team operated the dental clinic from a simple steel shipping container, fitted with electricity and converted to include a few small windows. There was no equipment to do X-rays, no suction, and no handpieces to section molars or restore teeth. Challenging dental procedures were made more difficult due to a significant language barrier. No members of the team spoke fluent Ukrainian or Russian. They had to rely upon the Google Translate app on their cellphones to collect a patient’s medical history and provide them with critical aftercare instructions.

Despite the many challenges faced by volunteers, the resilience of the Ukrainian people in the face of adversity was abundantly evident. Team members were overwhelmed by the kindness of the Polish people who opened their hearts and homes to their Ukrainian guests and treated them with respect and compassion. The arrival of a 23-year-old native of the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine named Alaina (named changed for privacy), who spoke Ukrainian, English, German, and Russian fluently, made this experience especially meaningful. She jumped right in to work as a translator despite the grief of being separated from her own family. Her calming presence and ability to speak with fellow refugees provided comfort to all in a stressful time.

As his trip concluded, McCarl was struck by the overwhelming kindness and willingness of strangers to help someone in need. While raising money to fund his trip, he started receiving donations from people he had not met, as well as people who wanted to help but did not know how they could directly assist the Ukrainian people in a meaningful way. He realized that the best thing any individual could do was give whatever they could; whether money or time, it was clear that many people coming together to give a little makes a huge difference to those in need.