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Letters of Inspiration

March 1, 2000
When we read these letters, our hearts are glad, or our funny bones are tickled. Once again, we think hygienists write excellent letters.

When we read these letters, our hearts are glad, or our funny bones are tickled. Once again, we think hygienists write excellent letters.

RDH makes no special effort to be inspirational in tone. Occasionally, authors will submit manuscripts that - according to letters, notes, cards, and e-mails from readers - profoundly change how a hygienist views life. But the magazine doesn`t shop around for such articles, asking authors, "Have you written anything that will make a hygienist cry?" We figure inspirational articles surface in a natural way.

The magazine has, however, received some letters from readers that we think are inspirational. For obvious reasons, we think the first two letters start off with a bang. Two readers overcome the adversities imposed by diseases. However, we liked all of the comments, for they provoked a range of emotions as we read them.

In September 1998, Eileen Konecny was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. The 20-year hygienist and mother of two young children wrote, "I lost use of my left hand, which posed a big problem in that I am left-handed. I had no choice but to go on disability."

She and her husband, Kyle, scouted out therapies available to MS patients. "I knew my first priority was to be up and moving to raise my children (ages two and 10)." The Endicott, N.Y., couple settled on Copaxone, a daily, injectable therapy reported to have the fewest side effects. She began therapy in November 1998.

"By the middle of December, I had sensory and motor skills back in my left hand. I returned to full-time work in January 1999," Konecny said. "I am still at work and plan to stay there as long as possible. Unfortunately, this disease holds no guarantees."

She said she wrote RDH for two reasons. "First being the positive attitude one needs to possess to overcome obstacles and, secondly, the educational aspect of advocating early therapy to those diagnosed with MS," she said. "I am a national advocate for Teva Marion Partners, the makers of Copaxone, and I spend a good deal of time offering peer support to others with MS."

A similar letter arrived from Edison, N.J. Dorothy Jennings is another 20-year veteran, as well as a clinical instructor at Middlesex County College. While conducting a self-administered breast exam, Jennings found a "hard lump the size of a pea." A mammogram confirmed the presence of a solid mass, and chemotherapy was scheduled after a biopsy indicated cancer.

"I have laughed, cried, and shared very emotional moments with my patients," she wrote. "I consider myself very fortunate that my patients have allowed me access to their lives. This past year, however, I let my patients into my life."

A brief absence from work alerted patients that something was wrong. "The news soon circulated that I was ill, although I didn`t see myself as that. Cards, flowers, fruit baskets, and, most of all, prayers flooded me."

Jennings continues, "The role was now reversed. I had to allow people into my life to assist me. Overwhelmed and deeply touched by my patients` compassion and concerns, I continued to work while receiving chemotherapy and radiation. More prayers and gifts continued over a 10-month period. I have kept all of the cards that I received. Periodically, I reach for them when I become discouraged that my cancer might return. Their prayers and gifts remind me that I am never alone."

As with the case of Konecny, Jennings has turned her experience into an educational one. "I remind my female patients not only to floss but to do routine breast examinations. Cancer has changed my life. I no longer put off the things that I have wanted to try. There are many more hills to climb and sunsets to watch."

California style

In San Diego, Jaclyn Young Tapner is in her 23rd year of practice. She spent the first 14 years of her career in Oahu (she`s a 1976 graduate from the University of Hawaii). Despite such nice scenery for practice settings, her work has led to some occupational injuries. Tapner developed an unusual cure.

"I was seeing a chiropractor once or twice a month for pain in my neck and lower back," Tapner wrote. "I started kickboxing one year ago. Since I`ve started training, I`ve seen the chiropractor just once! I guess I`ll have to keep cleaning teeth."

Tapner now teaches aerobic kickboxing in a local karate studio.

Speaking of Californians, we were also impressed with a letter received from Joy Fujii-Donaldson, who lives in the small farming community of Dinuba. The impact of the "Fruit Basket of the World" on her life is a unique one.

"I was born and raised in Reedley, California," Fujii-Donaldson said. "My parents are tree fruit growers and packers. Growing up in the central valley of California was a valuable life lesson on the rewards of hard work and the importance of family values. Every summer, my brother, sister, father, and mother worked the ranch. We packed peaches, plums, persimmons, and a wide variety of vegetables. My daughter will always have a summer job waiting for her at the ranch. She will dread the idea of sweating, peach fuzz, and physical labor (as I did). I know she will have endless memories and stories to tell."

This family`s tradition about hard work may seem rigorous to some, but it`s clear that the daughter, eight-year-old Taylor, is the light of her mother`s life. "Away from work, my hobby is my daughter. On my days off, I help in her classroom. I am the Parent/Teacher Committee treasurer, Head Room Parent, Sunday school teacher, and taxi driver to orthodontic appointments and Taiko drum lessons."

Milli Stelling is another Californian who delighted us with a letter. After graduation from Loma Linda University in 1966, Stelling worked for 11 years as a hygienist, including two years in the Peace Corps. As with the case of too many hygienists, she "burned out" and quit the profession. For 11 years, she focused on raising a family. But when a 21-year marriage ended, she returned to the profession. We thought the description of her return was inspiring.

"In January 1998, I was in the right place at the right time and landed a job with a couple of dentists right down the hill from my home here in Angwin," Stelling wrote. "Three years later, one of the two dentists decided to go out on her own, and I went with her to a new office in St. Helena. After eight years there, we had completely outgrown the space, so she bought a beautiful, historic house south of town and remodeled it into a gorgeous dental office.

"My two hygiene rooms have large windows looking out onto the veranda, rose garden, and a small vineyard."

Stelling`s return to dentistry after burnout ended up in a room with a view to die for. We`re glad she gave the profession another chance. She remarried in 1989 and describes quality time with husband Rob as "with my husband riding in the beautiful Napa Valley on our recumbent tandem. We are so fortunate to live in such a great place!"

We liked the go-getter attitude from Barbara Engelhardt in Bay City, Mich. A 16-year veteran, Engelhardt wrote us to say that she practices 25 to 33 hours a week and also serves as a clinical evaluator at the local dental hygiene school.

"I truly love my career, mostly because of the opportunity to touch so many people in such a personal way," she said. "I will be graduating with a bachelor`s of art in business or organization in February 2000. This has been a personal goal of mine for many years, and I am thrilled to be completing that dream.

"I feel with the threat of preceptorship on the heels of our profession, continuing our education is very important - not because I want to leave, but to acquire more knowledge and skill to aid in the promotion of our profession."

The above, of course, is a very astute perception made by many professionals in dental hygiene. Many hygienists have enhanced their status in the dental community by rounding out their college education. At this point in the letter, Engelhardt then described her family, which includes two sons who reside in Alaska and work as firefighters for the "Tazilina Hot Shot Crew." Her husband, David, and eight-year-old Morgan (pictured) stay active through a variety of activities, including cycling and scuba diving.

Engelhardt concluded by saying, "In November, our office may go to Las Vegas, and I plan on giving backpacking down the Grand Canyon a serious try. I believe my boss thought we would enjoy gambling, but I`m going to place my bet on a different kind of thrill."

We laughed. Go get `em, Barbara! Of course, we`d like to know how the boss enjoyed the vacation.

Good feelings in different places

Several hygienists have written to us about the challenges of relocating to another state. Most of the time, though, the heartwarming stories are about moving from the tundra to someplace warm and sunny. Our interest is aroused when the opposite occurs.

Ann Poirier wrote to us about moving from Florida to Minnesota. Despite being a Michigan native (and a 1981 graduate from Mott Community College in Flint, Mich.), Poirier wrote about a five-year, "exciting journey" to Florida where she immersed herself in volunteer work, making new friends, and surviving Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

Then her husband accepted a job in Burnsville, Minn. "I wasn`t so sure that I was ready to leave sunny Florida for chilly Minnesota," she wrote. "But it`s very beautiful here in Minnesota, and it`s nice to be back to where there`s a change of seasons again."

As of her current life in Minnesota, she writes, "One of the things that I have enjoyed doing since I moved to Minnesota is playing my flute in church and also for a community band. The main reason that I decided to have my picture taken in my church sanctuary is that it has been a very important place of renewal for me each week. I always leave refreshed and ready to face new challenges that might await me at home or in the office for the week to come."

Maureen Cotter-Cook also traded in Florida for something a little chillier. Cotter-Cook, who has been practicing for 23 years, wrote, "I did practice in Florida for six months, but then I moved back to Ohio where I feel more at home. I love Northeast Ohio with its rolling hills and beautiful seasons."

This is how she described life in her hometown of Medina: "In the summer, I run three to six miles whenever I can. There`s a beautiful five-mile course in our park system where I love to run and unwind right after work. I also love rollerblading on any of our paved paths through our park systems. I play tennis year-round, either singles on a women`s team or mixed doubles. In the winter, we are very close to New York for local downhill skiing."

Wyoming isn`t exactly Florida. However, listen to Amy Vogel`s take on growing up in the Equality State: "As a Wyoming native, I grew up trout fishing, rock climbing, mountain biking, and skiing." After graduating from the University of Nebraska in 1997, Vogel stayed to work in a dental office in Lincoln, trying to find "flatlander" activities she could enjoy.

She writes, "I definitely miss the majestic mountains, but have acquired a fondness for the bright fields of sunflowers and endless rows of corn!" Well said.

Amusing thoughts

Several letters to RDH were just friendly letters - nothing unusual - but a sentence or two would tickle our funny bone. For example, Carole Quinton of Ewing, N.J., recently celebrated her 60th birthday and shared with us her fondness for growing orchids, reading mystery novels, and watching movies.

Quinton also noted another recent milestone in her life - her 40th anniversary as a dental hygienist. She wrote, "I began working in New York City with starting pay of $1.35 per hour and a 48-hour week." Fortunately, as the RDH Salary Survey indicates, the profession has fared better during the last 40 years.

Marcene Estes of Raleigh, N.C., enjoys "cooking, reading, sewing, and crafts." She announced that her daughter, Heather (who also is a dental hygienist), is expecting twins, and that she was looking forward to Ospoiling my first grandbabies.O Estes joined the profession a mere five years ago, writing, OI found this profession a little late in life, but I have finally discovered what I want to be when I grow up.O

Victoria Lawry of Erie, Pa., told us about the peacefulness of walking and riding a bike along the shores of Lake Erie. A Pittsburgh native, she and her husband moved to Erie two years ago and discovered that the lake has Othe most beautiful sunsets that I have ever seen. It?s a nice area to walk, especially during the fall when the leaves are changing colors.O

She graduated from the University of Pittsburgh, fulfilling a lifelong dream of a career in dentistry. She writes, OEver since I can remember, I always have had an interest in the dental field. Perhaps it?s due to my mother always encouraging me to smile when I was young.O Lawry also sent us seven photographs of herself. We show you the one where?s she?s OfrowningO the most. We?re not sure if we?ve seen a bigger grin in dental hygiene. Keep smiling, Victoria, and God bless your mother!

We conclude with a letter from Drucella McAllister of Yorba Linda, Calif. She wrote us about her passion for downhill skiing. She?s a member of the Orange County Ski Club. The club members ski monthly at Mammoth Mountain in California, and McAllister has become a downhill racer, representing the club in slalom and giant slalom events.

We just liked how she introduced herself in the letter. OMy name is Drucella McAllister, better known as Dru. That is shorter and definitely matches my four-foot, 10-inch frame. I Odropped by? to see the director of dental hygiene at the University of Michigan. Although that was a great insult to her and a very improper action, she allowed me to enroll the following fall. I graduated in 1967 and have practiced for 32 straight years. So I am probably one of the oldest and longest practicing dental hygienists!O

RDH thanks the readers above for sharing insights into their personal lives. Next month, we?d like to share some letters from readers who take staying in shape to the next level.

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Eileen Konecny, above, catches a ball game at Yankee Stadium in July 1999.

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Dorothy Jennings, discovered patients can be compassionate too.

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Tapner: Kickboxing is rejuvenating.

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Stelling: A room with a view

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Fujii-Donaldson: Back to fields

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Engelhardt: Plans for Vegas

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Poirier: Sanctuary in Minnesota

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Cotter-Cook: Homesick for Ohio

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Vogel: Nebraska sunflowers

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Quinton: Would you believe $1.35 an hour?

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Estes: Growing up

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McAllister: What an introduction

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Lawry: Hygiene`s biggest smile?