Bringing dental care and soccer balls to needy kids

It’s hard to imagine a child voluntarily walking several hours throughout the night just to see a dentist in the morning.

But Dr. Robert Arbuckle, a dentist with Wilton Dental Care on Old Ridgefield Road, experienced just that. He recently encountered children in Cape Verde, Africa, who not only walked all night, but also took canoe trips through thick jungles in order to get the free dental services he was providing.

“Many places all over the world do not have access to dentists. If we're in pain and want a dentist in the U.S, we don't even think twice about going. We live like kings here and we don’t realize it,” he said.

Over the course of 20 years, Dr. Arbuckle has traveled across the world, to countries such as Guatemala and Cambodia, as a member of Healing the Children Northeast, a nonprofit agency that provides medical care to children in emerging and developing countries.

This past October, Dr. Arbuckle went on his 11th mission trip with Healing the Children. This one was to Santa Antão on the island nation of Cape Verde, an archipelago off the northwest coast of Africa. Accompanying Dr. Arbuckle was a team from his Wilton office: Rebecca Trimarchi, dental assistant, Melinda MacKenzie, hygienist, and his wife Marleny Arbuckle.

The team joined other dentists, hygienists and oral surgeons, which altogether provided dental services to 500 children in Cape Verde over the course of 10 days. Dr. Arbuckle’s team performed general dentistry, fixing teeth and doing extractions, as well as educating children on proper dental hygiene and care.

“Every time we do these missions we realize how lucky and blessed we are to live in the States,” he said.

Soccer balls

Dental furniture and equipment are scarce at the makeshift clinics set up by Healing the Children, so Dr. Arbuckle has learned to do things on the fly.

In previous missions, he would bring a deflated soccer ball along on the trip to use as a headrest for the children to make them more comfortable while he treated them. When the mission was over, the soccer ball was inflated and left for kids in the community to play soccer.

For the trip to Cape Verde, Dr. Arbuckle’s assistant Rebecca Trimarchi had an idea to bring along extra soccer balls for the children.

She contacted Tom Moore, adjutant of the American Legion Post 86 in Wilton, which has a soccer net in front of it and serves as a drop-off point for soccer ball donations for the Kick for Nick Foundation, which to date has donated more than 52,000 soccer balls in 50 countries.

Moore in turn contacted Bill Madaras, vice president of Kick for Nick, who donated 10 soccer balls for Dr. Arbuckle’s trip.

Soccer is popular in Africa, where there are soccer academies. “It’s all tied up with teamwork and leadership,” Madaras said.

Kick for Nick was founded in memory and honor of Bill and Shalini Madarases’ son, PFC Nicholas A. Madaras, who was killed in 2006 by an IED while serving in Iraq. Nick was an avid soccer player, coach and referee during his youth. The late Ken Dartley, a member of Post 86, started a collection of soccer balls to ship over to Iraq in Nick’s memory, and the Kick for Nick Foundation was born.

The soccer balls accompanying Dr. Arbuckle to Cape Verde were a hit. “One kid said he would not let us do any dental work until he got a soccer ball,” Dr. Arbuckle said.

Next year, Dr. Arbuckle plans to go on another Healing the Children mission, this time to either Peru or Ecuador. “We’ll absolutely be bringing more soccer balls,” he said.