Pass It Forward
In the late ’70s, after reflecting upon his good life here in New Hampshire, A.J. “Skip” Homicz, D.D.S., decided to reach out to people who lead very different lives from his. He contacted the Missionaries of Charity, and soon embarked on what was to be the first of 10 humanitarian trips to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, where 80 percent of the population lives in abject poverty amid squalor, disease and violent gangs.
With a backpack full of dental equipment and supplies, Dr. Homicz set up a street clinic in Haiti, focusing on pain relief and infection control. It was difficult at times with limited equipment, poor lighting and dirty water, but he says he “got a lot done.” When he wasn’t at the street clinic, Homicz helped at a children’s home and hospice, run by the Missionaries of Charity.
Although Homicz says he never really feared for his safety while in Haiti, he admits there was a time when he couldn’t leave the modest guest house where he was staying because of gunfire on the street. He also tells the story of a night after working at the children’s home, when he realized it was getting late for his one-mile walk back to the guest house. He turned to one of the missionaries, a nun. “I said to Sister, ‘I probably ought to get going before it gets dark.’ I was a little concerned, and was saying this to a tiny little Scandinavian nun. She turned to me and said, ‘Doctor, have faith.’ We live in a world where we try to control everything. I’ve learned that I control a lot, but nothing that’s very important. So that was kind of a lesson that day, having Sister say to the big 6’3” dentist, ‘Just have faith.’”
“If I have one regret,” regarding his trips to Haiti, says Homicz, “it’s that I don’t speak Creole. I could tell them to open their mouth, close their mouth, point to where the pain was, that type of thing, but I couldn’t communicate well. And when you can’t communicate you lose a little bit of the flavor. But the people lined up, they would sit down, open their mouths and they just couldn’t do enough for you. They brought coconuts, cracked coconuts open for you, they brought fresh fruit. They brought what they had.”
Homicz describes his Haiti work as “self-serving” and said it “combines a spiritual retreat with delivery of health care services in an area of need.” He was touched by working alongside “real missionaries,” and says the trips taught him “how little you need to be pretty darn comfortable.”
Now 61 and recently retired from his dental practice in Antrim, Homicz is still wildly passionate about dentistry and oral health, helping others and being involved.
In 2000, a Surgeon General’s report highlighting the importance of oral health in relation to general health prompted Homicz to take a closer look at what’s being called an oral health epidemic in our own country. Eager to help create a public health system that includes access to care, education and prevention, and concerned about an increasingly volatile environment in Haiti, Homicz now focuses his considerable energy and enthusiasm on local dental health issues, volunteering for many different oral health-related groups and coalitions, and helping the needy in New Hampshire.
Staying closer to home also allows Homicz to spend more time with his family, including two new grandchildren. Homicz describes grandparenthood as “an adventure,” but he seems to approach all of life that way. An avid sports fan, Homicz is an ex-football player for Cornell University. He scuba dives, golfs, plays tennis, is an ex-pilot and just got his motorcycle license.
“My wife desperately wants me to grow up,” he says. “I just like to keep busy.” NH