OHSU Dental Student Looking for Cavities Finds Skin Cancer

06/06/01    Portland, Ore.

Student Terri Baarstad stood over her patient Bill Admire in the Oregon Health & Science University dental clinic. She was looking for possible cavities in his mouth. What she found was cancer, under his eye. Students treat patients under the supervision of faculty.

Admire, 65, credits Baarstad, 33, with saving his eye and possibly his face and his life.

Baarstad will be graduating from OHSU's School of Dentistry Friday, June 8 at 8 p.m. in the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland Center for the Performing Arts.

"During a routine oral cancer screening I had him take his glasses off. If I hadn't I might not have seen it. It was in the crease under his eye where his glasses rest. I am so glad it has been heavily emphasized by our pathology department that if something doesn't look normal, and we can't label it, then we'd better find out what it is," Baarstad said.

She called an oral pathologist to take an immediate look. Biopsy results proved the growth was squamous cell cancer, which, if untreated could have caused Admire to lose his eye and eventually much of his face, and perhaps his life. Admire has had the cancer successfully removed.

"I really appreciated her diligence and her wanting to do good in all areas. Terri is pretty confident. I trusted her," said Admire. He owns a nursery in Boring and teaches at the Northwest Alternative High School in Oregon City.

"It was my first time finding cancer and I still get goose bumps thinking about it. It has made me acutely aware as a dentist. Now I ask everyone to take their glasses off when I'm examining them," she said.

The patient and the dental student have become friends throughout the several months Admire has been coming for appointments to the clinic. He sent Baarstad a graduation gift and a thank you letter for catching the cancer. They have discussed life and its meaning.

He wrote to her: "I mentioned that I thought a dentist was what you do, not who you are. I would like to tell you -- my friend -- who you are. You are a healer."

After graduating, Baarstad will be opening her dental practice at 1775 River Road in Eugene.

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