Dr. Drew Cahoon, a member of the Church and a doctor of dentistry, has seen many miracles unfold in his life. When he was a young man, he attended dental school at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada; met his wife Joann while going to school; and joined the armed forces that paid for his dental education in exchange for five years of return service. He also served as the president of the Redner Stake for eight years. One day when he was on his way to the stake center for some meetings, he had a head-on collision with a truck.
“[The accident] pushed my left leg through my pelvis and into my kidney and liver,' Dr. Cahoon remarks. 'They thought that I would not live to see the light of day. The reality is there is really no adversity. At times it feels like adversity, but it is just opportunity.”
He took his first opportunity to relocate to Raymond in Southern Alberta and rebuild his dental practice and raise his family. He took a second opportunity to join a Rotary International chapter, as he was impressed with their belief in God and their focus on serving humanity. He ultimately took a third opportunity to become part of the Academy of LDS Dentists who aspired to professional excellence and service. Put them all together, and he was perfectly positioned to do a service project.
“I don’t believe in coincidences,” Dr Cahoon insists. “I do believe that the Lord leads us in paths that produce miracles. I used to believe that Section Four of the Doctrine and Covenants was a ‘missionary scripture,’ but I believe it’s a scripture for every day for every member of the Church. I wake up in the morning and I think, ‘Now behold, a marvelous work is about to come forth among the Cahoon family!’
His first ‘marvelous work’ was participating in gathering 20,000 books for Uganda. He remembers thinking,”Holy mackerel, these books are in English. I can do English! So I got excited about the possibility of going to a country where I could speak my own language.”
Dentists are interested in smiles, and Dr. Cahoon says, 'The children’s smiles are absolutely captivating. You walk down the street, and they will sort of look up at you, and if they catch your eye, they will smile broadly. They don’t speak to you until they are spoken to [as they have been taught].
“And so you’ll say ‘Hi,’ and then it just opens up the gates, and they want to know why you are there and what you are doing and all sorts of things. If you have a camera, [they will ask] ‘Can you take my picture?’ and then you show them the picture you’ve taken. If you have a soccer ball, and you give it to one of the children, then the whole community has a soccer ball. It’s for everybody. They share.”
Dr. Cahoon continued, “Even in something as simple as [a dental] examination, I take off my examination gloves, and then I always turn them inside out, blow them up, tie [the wrist part], and throw them in the air. That will entertain 20 kids for 20 minutes!”
“I just love the children of Uganda,” he said. “At Church you go and see the best-behaved children. They are just a wonderful, religious people.”
His desire to help the Ugandan people was challenged when he visited the dental school at McKenna University. He explains, “It was built by the Danish government back in 1968, and the equipment may have been state-of-the-art back then, but only five of the 41 [dental] chairs worked. The remaining x-ray equipment would be outlawed in North America [as unsafe]. They were horrendous facilities.”
They also wanted to train twelve Ugandans as equipment technicians to install the new equipment. They would hire the technicians afterwards to maintain the equipment for years into the future. The three men didn’t want to wait too long. They dreamed of completing their project in just two and a half years.
The problem, of course, was no money. The motto “Charity begins at home” proved true. Dr. Cahoon’s high-school daughter Ashley came to him and gave him $15 toward the new dental college. She said, “Dad, I believe in you, and I’ll contribute more.” That was the start.
Dr. Cahoon’s other connections came through with generous donations: The Humanitarian Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Rotary Club International, The Academy of LDS Dentists, and an untapped group called Dente. In one of many miracles, they also received matching funds from the Canadian provincial government’s Wild Rose Foundation.
Many Ugandans donated their time, talents, and money to put the project over the top. Dr. Cahoon’s dedication and connections, combined with many miracles, resulted in the beautiful new facility in Kampala McKenna University that was opened on August 3, 2007. The newly-trained dentists of Uganda can now competently safeguard the beautiful smiles of their people.
Excerpted from the Mormon Channel’s “Faith in Action- Dr. Cahoon--Uganda” Episode 3; and Mormon Newsroom: 'A 'Mzungu' with a Vision' by Sean Donnelly.