Graduating Dental Hygiene Student Learns Lessons that Save a Life

04/20/2010
Contact: Beverly James
Phone: 678-891-2686
Fax: 678-891-2966
Author: Beverly James

For Immediate Release

Katie Thompson will walk into commencement at Georgia Perimeter College on Friday, May 14, knowing her skills as a dental hygienist may have saved one woman’s life and impacted an entire household’s future health.

The first time Thompson, of Marietta, looked into Romitechus Robinson-Alexander’s mouth, she was shocked by what she encountered: puffy, swollen, bleeding gums, which belonged to a woman who flinched at the mere thought of being touched with a dental instrument. Thompson, a senior in the dental hygiene program at Georgia Perimeter College, knew she had her work cut out for her.

“She was on so many different prescriptions, and she had congestive heart failure, diabetes and hypertension. So I knew I had to take an extensive medical history and research the drugs to make sure there weren’t any side effects or counter-indications for her conditions,” Thompson says. “Right away I realized that several of the prescriptions caused swelling, and that’s exactly what you don’t want with someone who has congestive heart failure.”

Thompson explained to Robinson-Alexander, of Decatur, that the drugs she was taking were also causing her gums to swell and bleed. The patient, discouraged and struggling with multiple health issues, was unsure of what to do next.

For Thompson, the course was clear. “We have to treat the whole patient, not just the mouth. Nutritional counseling, the extensive medical history, talking to her about her overall health, it all plays a part,” she says. But the crisis was about to hit home for Robinson-Alexander.

“I woke up the next day and the entire left side of my face was swollen. I went to the emergency room, and they said it was from the Lisinopril, which I was taking for hypertension,” Robinson-Alexander says. “I told them a dental hygiene student at GPC had already told me that this drug was causing me to swell, and they couldn’t believe it. A student? Yes, a student caught it before anyone else.”

Unfortunately for Robinson-Alexander, a second crisis also proved Thompson right. A flare-up of the congestive heart failure ended with Robinson-Alexander being taken off of Actos, a drug Thompson had found to be specifically banned for those with congestive heart failure.

“Before Thompson came along and told me how these were the wrong prescriptions for me, I couldn’t lose weight, I could barely walk a few feet, I was always tired and worn out. But look at me now,” Robinson-Alexander says, proudly showing off a pair of sneakers under her dress. “I walk everywhere. I have more energy, my wedding band is loose and I’ve lost weight. Thompson has changed my life.”

Ever the diligent dental hygienist, Thompson points to the changes in her patient’s oral health. “Before, her gums were so red and swollen that she couldn’t tolerate a deep cleaning without an anesthetic. Now her gums are tight and pink and so healthy. When I clean her teeth, she falls asleep in the chair,” she chuckles.

For Robinson-Alexander, the biggest change has been in the chronic diseases she has struggled with for years. “My blood sugar levels have dropped, and I can control my diabetes with diet now. I have a new mouth and a new life.”

According to Thompson, studies show a connection between periodontal health and patients’ ability to control diabetes. “Oral health is so important to overall health, and I think Ms. Robinson understands that so much more now.”

Robinson-Alexander’s family members have also taken Thompson’s advice to heart. “They couldn’t believe my life got on track because of a student at GPC, so now every time I come back from an appointment at the dental clinic they ask me, ‘what did Ms. Katie say today?’ ” Robinson-Alexander says. “She’s had an impact on the whole house. My parents eat differently, and we all have changed our lifestyles. She is an angel sent from God.”

Thompson says she will go into commencement knowing that she can help others just as she helped Robinson-Alexander and her family. “Ms. Robinson has a new lease on life, and that encourages me,” Thompson says. “She shows that what I do makes a difference.”

Caption: GPC dental hygiene student Katie Thompson’s attention to detail helped her patient, Romitechus Robinson-Alexander, find her way back to better health./Photo by Bill Roa, Georgia Perimeter College.

-# # # -

Georgia Perimeter College, the third largest institution of the University System of Georgia, serves more than 25,000 students through four campuses and several sites in metro Atlanta. For additional information, visit www.gpc.edu.