Toronto team provides dental, medical care for Grenadians

by Ron Fanfair
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Smiles Grenada, Carriacou & Petite Martinique outreach mission team spent 10 days in Grenada in April.

By RON FANFAIR
Archdeacon of Grenada, Hoskins Huggins, was disappointed when he learned that a young Sheridan Cyrus’ interest was in dentistry and not in religious studies as he had hoped. However, he still offered him a private scholarship to study overseas.
Huggins used some private donor funds allocated to maintain Anglican schools to send students abroad to pursue higher education.
Now Dr. Sheridan Cyrus, he never forgot the good fortune. Since 2018, he and a team of Canadian healthcare professionals have been providing Grenadians with free oral care.
Dr. Cyrus is part of Smiles Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique whose members offer free dental treatment worth almost C$160,000 to nearly 400 Grenadians.
Vanessa Felix is the organization’s founding president.
“Though I reside in Canada, I am always thinking about Grenada and what I can do to help its people,” said the dental hygienist who left the island at age 14. “I love doing community work and I feel it is imperative for us in the Diaspora to volunteer and give back. When people tell you how much they appreciate you coming to provide free oral care, that gives me joy. Many people here have to choose between going to the dentist and putting food on the table. They just can’t afford it. As long as we can assist, we will.”
The team of about 23 spent 10 days last month volunteering in rural St. Mark on the island’s west coast and at Mont Tout Community Centre in St. George.
To prepare for the mission, Cyrus buys dental carts from China that are shipped to Grenada at his own cost. He also purchased an X-ray machine.
Canadian dental suppliers chip in with free combo pack toothbrushes and toothpaste, and materials for dental fillings.
Money that the organization raised from fundraisers was used to acquire 30 blood pressure machines since elective dental treatment should not be done on a patient with uncontrolled and severely high blood pressure.
The Caribbean’s blood pressure rates rank among the highest in the Americas.
“For those with high blood pressure seeking treatment, it is possible they can suffer a heart attack or even a stroke,” Cyrus said. “In Canada, most people with high blood pressure take the prescribed medicine. This is not the case in the Caribbean. Some cannot afford to buy the medication while others are unaware their blood pressure is high. We want to make sure their blood pressure is normal before they see us and we are educating them that they need to seek help if they have high blood pressure.”
Cyrus’ older brother succumbed to a stroke and some of his family members have high blood pressure, diabetes and other ailments.
“I want to see an improvement in all aspects of life in Grenada and that includes health,” he said. “This (current) government and the previous one have been very supportive of the work we do here.”
On the first visit six years ago, the team did outreach in Gouyave in St. John.
“What we noticed there was that many children had not seen a dentist,” said the Church of Scientology member. “They had a lot of cavities that were filled and I did several extractions. The next year in St. David, we did not have that issue.”
Registered nurse Doreen Alexander learned about the mission through SCD hygiene director Kelvin Cameron.
“My husband (Chris Alexander) migrated from Grenada and I thought it would be a good opportunity to go to his birth country and give back,” said the Sickle Cell Awareness Group of Ontario former president and vice-president. “When I told Kelvin that dentistry is not my specialty, he said they needed a nurse. I explained to him that my focus is on infection prevention and control in my role at North York General Hospital and I could be part of the mission to ensure that the dental instruments are properly sterilized.”
“In addition, I mentioned that I could guide the team in ensuring they wash their hands and change gloves. As much as you are coming to Grenada to help people, you don’t want to leave infections behind. If that is not done, we could cause Grenadians more harm than good.”
Part of the mission since 2018, Alexander uses one week of her annual vacation and pays her airfare to volunteer on the Spice Island.
“The people of Grenada treat us very well,” she said. “The joy for me is to watch the smiles on the faces of patients after they get their treatment. The hard part is leaving without giving everyone the care they deserve.”
Registered dental hygienist Sydney Murrell has been with SCD for 13 years.
“I love taking care of people and giving back and this is the perfect platform to do this,” said the product of Barbadian and Antiguan parents.
Two massage therapists, including Lydia Koduah-Grindley, were part of the outreach mission. This was her third trip to the island.
Dentists and massage therapists collaborate to identify and manage underlying triggers while addressing muscular tension.
“Oral health care can be expensive,” Koduah-Grindley said. “When Vanessa came up with the idea to start this organization, I wanted to be part of it because it is about giving back to those who are not so fortunate. In my role, I let people know how much massage can do for them, especially if they have ailments and are recovering from a stroke.”
While communicating with a friend on WhatsApp, former Grenada prison officer Paul Thomas learned of the mission. He went to Mont Tout to get some dental fillings.
“What the dentist and his people are doing is very good,” said Thomas. “This is one of the poorer communities and any help the residents can get, particularly when it comes to their health, is very much appreciated. This is a big deal for us.”
Giving back without expecting anything in return comes easily for Cyrus who is a staple in Toronto’s Black community. He hosts an annual barbecue for clients and community members, makes donations to the Malvern Family Resource Centre which he has been affiliated with for nearly 30 years and gives scholarships to the Association of Black Law Enforcers.
Cyrus also financially supports an annual academic award for Dentistry students at Dalhousie University, his alma mater.
When trying to choose an overseas university to pursue undergraduate and graduate studies, it certainly helped that he had an older sibling enrolled at a public research university in Nova Scotia. Dr. Pemberton Cyrus, an associate professor in the Department of Industrial Engineering, encouraged him to come to Halifax.
“He said they had a very good dental school,” recalled Cyrus who was a high school Biology teacher in Grenada. “As I did my research, I discovered that the only dental schools in Canada accepting international students then were Dal and McGill which had a French requirement for students. The other thing my brother mentioned is that if we stayed together, we could share some costs. That seemed attractive.”
On his first long-distance flight, he arrived in Halifax in August 1983 and completed his studies six years later.
“I enjoyed going to Dal because it’s located in a small community which reminded me of Grenada,” Cyrus said. “On Sundays, there wasn’t anything happening which was just like back home.”
Being a lover of music also helped with the smooth transition. For the entire duration at Dal, Cyrus was a member of the choir that performed at events across the city, including the annual Nova Scotia International Tattoo.
A few months before graduating from dental school, Dr. Trevor Chin Quee – a Jamaican of Chinese heritage who was the head of Periodontics at the time – suggested that Cyrus come to Toronto to practice with Dr. Trevor Mair – a Jamaican who graduated from McGill – who is now retired.
Taking up the proposal, Cyrus landed in Canada’s largest city for the first time in 1989 and, two years later, opened a practice in Scarborough.

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