MARYSVILLE — Marysville’s Dr. Loree Bolin received a spotlight in December from the Ken Baxter Senior Community Center as a local “cool person,” but she earned that distinction by working in some very hot climates.
After practicing dentistry for 25 years, Bolin retired in May of 2009 to work full-time with Medical Relief International, in which she serves as a director of international teams. Bolin’s relief work has taken her to Africa, South America and the Pacific Rim, where she’s provided dental care and learned about other countries’ cultures and customs.
“My father was a dentist for 30 years and he gave me a passion for it,” Bolin said. “I can give the gift of my hands and I receive so much in return.”
Recently, Bolin described to the senior center audience how she provides dental care to people who often live without electricity or plumbing, and whose hospital stays in Africa can be as short as an hour for mothers who have just given birth. She’s served as a dentist for orphans in Honduras who were rescued from the sex trade, and has distributed donated quilts to other children in need throughout the world.
Bolin explained that volunteers who travel as part of Medical Relief International programs must pay their own way, but have access to donated supplies. She elaborated that her work tends to focus on surgical and restorative dentistry, from removing tumors to furnishing patients with dentures.
“For a woman who has no front teeth, it changes her life,” said Bolin, whose destinations have included Tanzania, Uganda, Zimbabwe and Liberia in Africa, as well as Vietnam, Cambodia and the Philippines. “In so many of these places, 10 percent of the population is wealthy while the remaining 90 percent lives in dire poverty.”
Bolin praised her in-country assistants as “smart go-getters with talent and desire,” who appreciate the educational opportunities afforded by Medical Relief International, which would otherwise be unavailable to them.
“You have to have a uniform to attend the free schools in Africa,” Bolin said. “For so many families, even that $10 amount can be a deal-breaker.”
With outside power often sketchy at best, Bolin often uses instruments connected to solar generators. She’s worked in Ugandan refugee camps with young girls who were rape survivors, and in Philippine villages flooded by hurricanes, in which children who had no other toys entertained themselves with a single rubber band.
“If you hit the cement hard enough, you could make the rubber band jump,” Bolin said. “That was it. They had nothing else to play with.”
According to Bolin, she’s seen the optimism that Medical Relief International can bring those who live in destitute third world areas, not only by offering free health care where it’s otherwise nonexistent, but also by helping locals help themselves.
“We’ve discovered that we can leave a lasting effect on a region when we invest in the people first, and in doing so, develop local leadership,” Bolin said. “When we develop leadership, we leave individuals with tremendous hope, of helping their families, their communities and eventually their nations.”
Medical Relief International is a non-profit associated with the Antioch Bible Church in Redmond, and volunteers can join trips lasting from one to four weeks. Marysville’s Dr. Kathy Mulligan is one of the other Snohomish County dentists who’s part of the group’s work.
For more information, call Bolin at 425-218-2887 or log onto www.MedicalReliefInternational.org.