By Tara Kulash | The Oregonian/OregonLive
Published June 11, 2015
Two oral surgeons planned to donate life-changing surgery to one person.
But after more than 60 applicants told compelling stories, Dr. Russell Lieblick and Dr. Brandon Rehrer announced Thursday that they’ve selected two people for a surgery that costs upward of $28,000.
Beacon Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons – an oral surgeon group with offices in Gresham, Milwaukie, The Dalles and Vancouver, Wash. – is donating full-arch replacement to two candidates.
Because all existing teeth will be removed and replaced with implants, the doctors looked for severe oral health issues in applicants.
Rehrer, who mainly operates out of Vancouver, Wash., said he’s always wanted to be able to give a smile back to someone who couldn’t otherwise afford it. He said he’s very excited to provide this surgery to two people instead of one.
“There was such a large number (of applicants) and there’s two surgeons,” he said. “And I guess I couldn’t let Dr. Lieblick have all the fun.”
The first recipient announced Thursday was Jaclyn Guernsey of Clackamas.
At The Aerie at Eagle Landing in Happy Valley, Guernsey’s family and friends burst into applause and screams of joy as she broke into tears. Graden, her 5-year-old son, pushed his way through the crowd to sit next to his mom. He remained patient as she embraced him and cried into his hair.
Later, Guernsey said that when she applied for the Second Chance to Smile program, Graden asked, “Does this mean you get to take pictures with me again?”
Guernsey, 36, has had a history of medical issues. The two that seem to have affected her teeth are thyroid cancer, which was treated with radiation, and Sjögren’s syndrome. Sjögren’s is an autoimmune disease associated with lupus that causes dry mouth and tooth decay.
In 2013, she said, a dentist insisted on pulling all of her teeth. Later, she found out she wasn’t a candidate for dentures because her jawbone is disfigured.
Dentists told Guernsey she might never have teeth again.
She said it was horrifying. She’s felt ashamed and avoided visits with old friends. She has to gum her food. For a while, she wouldn’t go anywhere without a scarf around her face.
“Then you just kind of get to a point of feeling of being almost numb,” she said.
Because of her health issues, Guernsey worries that she won’t always be around for Graden. She said he deserves to have pictures with her.
“He needs those to see I was present.”
She said at the top of her priority list after surgery is to take Graden for professional family photos with her.
The second recipient was Christina Mercier of St. Helens.
Mercier, 39, had a decidedly smaller group with her in Happy Valley. In attendance were her husband and youngest child. Jason Mercier wrapped his arm around his wife while the crowd clapped and she hid her tears.
“She’s always put her family first,” Jason Mercier said. “So for her to get something for herself…”
He trailed off.
Christina Mercier underwent radiation therapy in 2000 for Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Head and neck radiation is known to damage oral health.
“(Doctors) told us it would most likely happen, but you don’t really have a choice at that time,” Jason Mercier said.
Christina Mercier said her dental problems began about four years ago. She would notice pain in her mouth, and then a tooth would shatter in the middle of a meal.
“Every time a cavity starts to show, you get a little more embarrassed,” she said.
The mom of three is excited to smile again and eat without the anxiety of breaking teeth.
“It’s amazing,” she said. “It’s gonna change so many things. I just don’t even know how to say it.”