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Thursday, May 23 2019 @ 10:46 PM UTC

Dental Equipment Heads to Panama

Expat Tales
Tom McCormack and Dr. Michael Zernich hope to bring this donated pediatric dental equipment to Panama.
Tom McCormack and Dr. Michael Zernich hope to bring this donated pediatric dental equipment to Panama.
By: Michael Pound for the Bever County Times - RACCOON TWP. - The gleaming white X-ray machine, the dental work station and accouterments for both look a little odd sitting in the doorway of Tom McCormack's barn. The fact that the pediatric dental gear had made it as far as the Raccoon Township barn, though, is a sign that the equipment, worth about $25,000, will finally get to be used by someone who needs it. The equipment was bought by the Aliquippa Hospital auxiliary several years ago, as part of an effort to establish a pediatric dental surgery unit there. But when the surgeon who was to run the unit backed away from the hospital, the stuff was put in storage - and stayed there for several years. "Because of the ongoing financial problems at the hospital, the surgeon reneged, and the hospital was left with no use for the equipment," said Michael Zernich, a retired doctor who worked for many years at the hospital. "They didn't have any use for it, and they didn't really know what to do with it."

That changed a short while ago when Zernich asked McCormack, a master beekeeper, to stop by his Center Township home to help with a wasp problem. Years ago, McCormack started taking his beekeeping expertise to Panama; along the way, he began gathering clothing, shoes, and - starting about a year ago - medical supplies to take to the impoverished country.

"It just sort of clicked, and I asked Tom if it might be something he could use down there," Zernich said.

Of course, the answer was affirmative. McCormack said there's a new children's hospital in David, Panama, the city where McCormack stays on his annual visits.

"This isn't a for-profit hospital; this is where the poor people go," McCormack said. "I know they don't have equipment like this, and I know they can use it."

McCormack spends the winter months in Panama, working with beekeepers and passing out the equipment and donated clothing he's collected here during the year. A 20-foot shipping crate, already stuffed with crutches, walkers and wheelchairs, will be fully loaded with the dental equipment and boxes and boxes of clothing, prosthetics and small medical items by the end of the month and shipped to Panama.

McCormack had some help packing Thursday morning: Zernich and his wife, Vickie; Moon Township resident Roswitha Firth, one of McCormack's primary helpers; and Martha Gropp, vice president of the hospital auxiliary.

"Tom does amazing things in Panama, and we're so happy to be able to pass this equipment on to someone who will be able to use it," said Gropp, as she stuffed a cardboard box with children's clothing. "We were so disappointed that we weren't going to be able to use it at the hospital. It feels great knowing it's going somewhere it will be appreciated."

Michael Pound can be reached online at

©Beaver County Times Allegheny Times 2007

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