Hi. I'm Megan Quinn, and I'm starting a GoFundMe page on behalf of Jennie Haskamp, a good friend to most of you to whom I've sent this.
(GoFundMe suggested that I tell you specifics, so to be clear, I'm a longtime friend of Jennie's, and mother to her godson.)
Jennie's been there for us through countless instances of need, or periods of difficulty in our lives. She always shows up to lend a hand, take care of a sick kid, offer her truck, hand you some cash, whatever's needed.
Now she's facing a severe difficulty of her own, without resources to resolve it. Jennie's dentally uninsurable for her specific issues. She's also attempting to find work, something made harder because her teeth are visibly broken as she goes for interviews. She went for one recently and had the tooth fall out during, and the interviewers literally told her to come back when she "got that issue taken care of."
As some of you know, Jennie was born with a cleft lip and palate, and has had more than 16 surgeries--some in foster care and some while on active duty in the Marines. She received military dental care, but the mouth bridge built for her years ago is now broken in several places, and moves and hurts when she chews. Her palate is sitting open (think of a newborn baby's skull and "soft spot", and then imagine that being the roof of your mouth). While the dental work she received in the past was sufficient for immediate needs, she has serious work that needs to be done. She's been waiting to hear back from the VA regarding dental assistance since Feb 2014, and they've recently told her to stop contacting them. She's been using Gorilla Glue to keep her tooth in while she volunteers with a veteran organization.
I know this is a lot to read, but I'm attaching an email she sent a few days ago. $28,000 is a crazy amount to ask, especially right after the holiday season. But any bit would help at this point. Prosthodontia is incredibly expensive, and she's exhausted the pro bono and charity foundation routes while trying to find some way of sourcing funds herself. The NY doctor she found is willing to do the work at cost, but it's still an exorbitant amount Jennie faces.
We don't want her to face it alone. I'm asking you to consider helping. Please read what she wrote me and consider what you're willing to contribute for this selfless friend who's faced daunting odds in this amazing life:
I feel like a whiner writing this, and I know I have so much to be thankful for, but I GLUED my front tooth back together again today and I’m just discouraged. All I wanted for Christmas was new front teeth. Or at least word from the VA they’d finally worked out my paperwork so I could have dental work done at the VA or by the VA.
Nope. No word beyond, “Please limit your status inquiries to once every 6 months so we’re not distracted from our work by having to answer your questions.”
Almost three years ago when a doctor in NYC suggested I petition to have my VA status changed to include dental, I was conflicted. I’d shied away from using VA benefits at all for a long time, convinced so many people deserved them more than I did. I was shocked she thought the VA might be the answer to resolving ongoing dental issues. Shocked and excited.
She’s the head of prosthodontics at a teaching facility in the city and also works one day a week at the VA. She said if they upgraded my eligibility to include dental she’d be able to see me as a VA patient. After listening and looking in my mouth, she didn’t know why dental wasn’t already part of my VA treatment plan. Heh.
I started the paperwork, hopeful. I sent away for records, submitted statements, shared photos.
She made an emergency repair to the broken porcelain and, after a long conversation I agreed to sit for a comprehensive examination so she could assess all that was wrong and send me an itemized invoice for out of pocket repairs just in case the VA didn’t come through.
I was hopeful, still. She cataloged several things awry with my cleft palate and the bridge--I love me some Navy dental but, 12 years after a soft tissue closure my palate is still open and between a few falls in Afghanistan and a Christmas 2013 skull smash session, my Navy issued bridge is broken in several places. Like it’s broken in half and moves. Not just cracked porcelain. The metal is broken. I don’t bite into things because it hurts and I’m terrified it will break more.
I was so excited she patched the tooth that day; there’s something completely demoralizing about having a broken smile. Nothing transports me back to being a 9-year-old foster kid avoiding eye contact with the kids at school like having a broken smile again. Literally.
I was anxious to get that letter… and then I read it. $28,000 for the bridgework and that’s without being charged for her time. I cried. I mean, it’s a super generous offer, the donated time, but who has $28k sitting around for dental work? I let her know I’d keep the letter and continue along the path she set me on with the reevaluation process for the VA.
That was February 2014.
When I moved down to NC the first thing I did was go to the local universities to see what type of outreach their prosthodontics departments do. One school said I could put my name on a waitlist to be added to a lottery and, in six months I might be chosen to be added to another list to be evaluated by the department… I’m still waiting for a call 14 months later.
I had another emergency porcelain repair at the VA in November right before heading out to clean up flooded homes in North Carolina with Team Rubicon and, luck would have it, the repair held for a full day. I was faced with 2 choices. Turn around and go home or head to the relief operation and try really hard not to smile or talk so no one would notice the broken tooth.
In a stroke of genius (desperation?) I stopped at Home Depot and bought Gorilla glue. And yes. I glued my tooth back together in the Home Depot bathroom. When I walked in to meet the rest of the volunteers I was able to smile. It only held for about a day so I kept the glue in my hygiene kit, reglued it each morning. If it broke while we were in the field working it was no big deal, since we were wearing face masks because of the mold. A friend caught me in the bathroom mirror with a tube of glue in my face and I confessed what I was doing.
Which brings me back to this morning and gluing my tooth together, again. I’m frustrated and my mouth hurts. I can’t bite into anything on the right side, I have nightmares about swallowing my teeth in my sleep and I’m scared to go on job interviews because a fractured smile impacts my self-esteem, despite my best efforts.
And I can’t reach out to the VA for another status update for six more months.
No insurance plan I’ve had since I’ve been off active duty has covered comprehensive prosthodontics. The open palate is a preexisting condition. My face/mouth, it seems, is a preexisting condition. Oh the irony.
Hindsight I guess I shoulda told the Santa at the mall I wanted new teeth for Christmas instead of hoping, after almost three years, the VA was coming through.
Additional details re: Dental Work and Funds: They'll need to cut the broken bridge into pieces to remove it, determine a need for any localized bone grafting, and then over the course of multiple lengthy appointments, they'll take impressions of the upper mandible, build a new bridge (porcelain over metal), and cement it into place. During the process, Dr. Z will assess the need for soft tissue debridement of the skin graft and palate and possibly engage an oral surgeon to close the fistula. The quoted fees are pro bono and cover lab time, materials, and technicians' work only.
Jennie will be the only beneficiary listed on this funds account, so any funds raised will go directly to her, and not to the Quinn family (again, GoFundMe directs I inform you of this).