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Humanitarian honored

Dr. Jeremiah Lowney receives ADA award

Norwich, Conn.—In 1982, Dr. Jeremiah Lowney, a successful 45-year-old orthodontist and community leader, was enjoying his family, his connections and the fruits of his labors, when a life-threatening illness and a life-changing mission trip pointed him in a new direction—Haiti.

His tireless dedication to serve the poor by providing health care, food, shelter and much more has been recognized with the 2011 ADA Humanitarian Award.

Image: Marilyn and Dr. Jeremiah Lowney give a goat to a Haitian villager through a Haitian Health Foundation program that provides poor families with a breeding female so they can develop a herd to produce food, milk and fertilizer to supplement their diet and income.
Living gift:Dr. Lowney and daughter Marilyn give a goat to a Haitian villager. The program provides poor families with a breeding female so they can develop a herd to produce food, milk and fertilizer to supplement their diet and income. Photos courtesy Haitian Health Foundation

Nearly 30 years ago, recovering from surgery and radiation to treat a rare form of bladder cancer, Dr. Lowney could have cancelled a long-planned mission trip, but instead he took a refresher course in extractions from an oral surgeon colleague, packed his instruments and headed for Mother Teresa’s Home for the Dying in Port-au-Prince.

After three years and 12 mission trips, Mother Teresa asked Dr. Lowney to move his outreach clinic to the city of Jérémie in southwestern Haiti—an area with little or no health care and extreme poverty.

“It seemed prophetic going to a city with the same name as mine,” said Dr. Lowney.

What he found in Jérémie was discouraging. The city had no outpatient clinic, no running water, no electricity. There was a small, ill-equipped government hospital, the only health facility for 600,000 of this hemisphere’s poorest people.

But today through his efforts, hundreds of thousands of Haitians in Jérémie and more than 100 surrounding villages are served under the umbrella of the Haitian Health Foundation that he founded. Dr. Lowney has spent the last three decades doling out hope—in the forms of food, shelter, education, development, health care and even goats—to the poorest of the poor in Haiti.

“We serve about 225,000 people and that number was substantially higher for several months after the earthquake last year, when people fled Port-au-Prince to find relief in our area. Thousands have chosen to stay, and are now under our umbrella,” Dr. Lowney said. “The need is overwhelming. First the earthquake, then Hurricane Tomas in November and now the cholera epidemic have taken their toll.”

Image: Dr. Lowney gives a young Haitian child peanut butter and crackers through a Haitian Health Foundation food distribution program.
Food for the hungry: Dr. Jeremiah Lowney gives a young Haitian child peanut butter and crackers as part of a food distribution program through the Haitian Health Foundation he founded. Photo courtesy Haitian Health Foundation

Since the cholera epidemic began, his health care staff has continued their work in teaching basic hygiene and sanitation to villagers throughout the region as well as distributing antibiotics and oral rehydration solution at the first signs of dysentery.

Though retired from dental practice, Dr. Lowney spends most of his days in the HHF office in Norwich, raising money and writing grants to fund the $3 million annual budget for the organization’s wide variety of programs and services. He continues to make quarterly trips to Haiti to make sure everything is running smoothly.

HHF provides medical, dental and eye care, with an emphasis on child survival interventions like vaccinations as well as prenatal care, vitamins and health education for mothers-to-be. Dr. Lowney built a 27,000-square-foot outpatient clinic in 1987 and the foundation also has a 50-bed inpatient facility for pregnant women, a 25-bed facility for seriously ill children and ambulance service. HHF employs local physicians, dentists, nurses and other health professionals to staff the clinic. The foundation also transports Haitians with serious medical problems to the U.S. where they can receive more advanced care.

Beyond health care, HHF assists Haitians with basic life needs—food, shelter, sanitation, livelihood and education. The foundation builds latrines and sturdy cement houses with tin roofs for families in need of sanitation and shelter. It has handed out thousands of chickens, eggs, pigs and pregnant goats to families who use the livestock for milk, food and income. In 2000, it built a school that served about 700 children before the 2010 earthquake. Today, the student population has grown to 1,200 students who attend in split-day sessions.

“I’m convinced that the worst poverty is hopelessness—waking up every morning lacking even the imagination to think tomorrow will ever be any better than today,” Dr. Lowney said. “The best gift you can give is hope for a better future.”

Dr. Lowney’s family also demonstrates significant support for his work. His daughter Dr. Jennifer Lowney now heads up his Norwich orthodontics practice. His daughter Marilyn serves as executive director of HHF.

Image: A Haitian youngster has a smile for Dr. Lowney on one of his recent trips to Jérémie. The girl’s red hair due to a lack of melatonin in her body is a sign of malnutrition.
Helping children: A Haitian youngster has a smile for Dr. Lowney on one of his recent trips to Jérémie. The girl’s red hair due to a lack of melanin in her body is a sign of malnutrition.

“It’s great,” he said. “I am lucky to be able to have lunch with my daughters every day.”

Son Mark Lowney, M.D., is an obstetrician in Fall River, Mass., and daughter Gail Alofsin, a marketing specialist and motivational speaker, lives in Newport, R.I.

His wife Virginia oversees HHF’s Save-a-Family Program. Donors to the family sponsorship program contribute a monthly gift of $25—100 percent of which goes to destitute families for food, rent, medicine, school tuition or other expenses. Her program supports more than 1,000 poor families in Jérémie.

“For less than the cost of a cup of coffee per day, donors can make a world of difference for these families,” he said.

The ADA Humanitarian Award recognizes individual volunteer commitment and leadership that has had a broad impact on oral health and the improvement of the human condition. The award is given to an ADA member dentist who has contributed at least 10 years to alleviate human suffering, demonstrated significant leadership, served as an inspiration to others and established a legacy that is of ongoing value and benefit to those in need in the U.S. and abroad.

“It is a pleasure for me to offer my congratulations to Dr. Lowney for the leadership and dedication that he exhibited in earning the Humanitarian Award,” said ADA President Raymond Gist. “Dr. Lowney’s selfless commitment to provide quality dental care for deserving patients, nationally and internationally, brings honor to the dental profession. He is truly deserving.”

Dr. Lowney will receive a plaque and a $5,000 donation for the Haitian Health Foundation in October during the ADA’s 152nd annual session in Las Vegas.

Dr. Lowney recently learned that he will also receive a humanitarian award from the American Association of Orthodontists. Dozens of other dental, fraternal and community organizations, including the Pierre Fauchard Academy, American College of Dentists, Rotary and the Knights of Malta have also honored him for his humanitarian efforts.

“We’re very fortunate to be members of this great profession of dentistry and to make a very comfortable living,” he said. “We all have spare funds. We can use them on ourselves, our pleasures, our hobbies. Or, we can share it with the poor and the broken. Doing that will provide you with a feeling of fulfillment that no other gift can give. It’s a blessing to make someone else on this planet’s life a little better.”

Visit www.HaitianHealthFoundation.org for more information about Dr. Lowney’s programs.

The ADA Division of Global Affairs is now accepting nominations for the 2012 ADA Humanitarian Award. To download the nomination packet log on to www.ada.org/1477.aspx.