Monday, May 3, 2010
Help Me Howard: Maria's Teeth
While she was in the hospital, doctors removed all her teeth without her permission to add to her problems, she is homeless. In and out of jail and living with no hope at all. Then she called Help me Howard with Patrick Fraser. It took nine months, but tonight Patrick and Howard finally have a solution.
WSVN -- When we first met Maria Montalvo she had been homeless off and on for 13 years.
Maria Montalvo: "Very painful, very hard, very challenging."
She lived on the streets because of an addiction.
Maria Montalvo: "I was addicted to crack cocaine and heroin."
Then last March, she was found unconscious with a severe infection.
Maria Montalvo: "It was huge like a football. Half my face was swollen to the point you couldnt even recognize me.
Maria was rushed to Jackson Memorial Hospital where doctors concluded her mouth was severely infected. So without Maria's permission they went to work.
Maria Montalvo: "They gave me pain medication to put me to sleep. I woke up and i had no teeth. I just freaked out. I dont remember what exactly i did, but i do remember leaving the hospital."
Maria was toothless. All 31 teeth were taken out. Even worse, she was back on the street where she was arrested for petty theft instead of jail. She was sent to a drug rehabilitation center and thats when she called Help me Howard.
Maria thought the hospital was wrong to remove her teeth without her permission. Howard said they could.
Howard Finkelstein: "Yes, the law calls this implied consent. In other words because Maria was unconscious and the doctors believed the infection was putting her life in danger they had a right to remove her teeth, and legally the hospital does not have to replace them."
After hearing that Maria had a request could we help her get teeth?
Maria Montalvo: "I am not a bad person. I dont give people a hard time. I am just a woman with an addiction problem who has been on the streets.
We said we would try, but then Maria walked away from the rehabilitation center and disappeared.
A few weeks later, she was arrested for violating her probation. She was happy to see us in court, but the judge was not happy to see her.
Judge: "You are facing a minimum of 35 months in prison up to 15 years in prison."
Maria begged the judge to not send her to prison and give her another chance at rehabilitation.
That was in September, for three months Maria sat in jail. Every few days she would send me a letter making sure we did not forget her, but getting an inmate in jail expensive dentures is next to impossible.
Then the court found rehabilitation center with a bed, Maria was free.
Beth Von Werne: "Everything that a family or individual needs to get their lives together and not be homeless."
Beth Von Werne from the Community Partnership for homeless started making calls and found a dentist with a big heart.
Beth Von Werne: "We work with 754 people every single night that live in our two centers and we have 80 churches and congregations and civic groups and 16,000 volunteers, and everyone of those people knows somebody and thats how we get it done."
The dentist who agreed to give Maria dentures for free was Dr. David Bennett
Dr. David Bennett: "I am a very fortunate person because i have lived a fairly charmed life. My parents were loving parents, they took care of me. They fed me, they educated me and its my way of giving back a little bit. This is just what we do."
On this day, Maria got her dentures. After being toothless for so long it took Maria a while to realize she had nothing to be ashamed of.
Maria Montalvo: "This is nice. This is really nice. Wow thank you so much."
Maria has teeth and more importantly, the teeth will give her confidence.
Dr. David Bennett: "Every time she looks in the mirror and tries to decide how am i feeling today, self esteem is so important to recovery. She is gonna smile thats a big deal."
In fact, Maria cant stop smiling and cant stop hugging. The dentist who gave her teeth and hope for a new life Johnnie our cameraman who kept making her laugh.
Maria Montalvo: "Thank you Patrick."
Patrick Fraser: "I am so happy for you."
She hit rock bottom. She got up off the crack, off the streets and hopefully on to a nice normal life.
Patrick Fraser: "I really want to thank Beth from the community partnership for the homeless and of course Dr. Bennet, and if you are about to become homeless or know someone who is the number to call is on our webpage."
Feeling helpless, hopeless? Dont give up, there are many people who want to lend a hand. So contact us, we will brush up on the law, sink our teeth in into it and give you something to smile about like Maria.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Broward Homeless Helpline
Miami-Dade Homeless Helpline: