When Hurricane Katrina hit, Ethel Daniels lost her smile — along with everything else she owned.
In a rush to get out the door to safety with her sister, Daniels left her dentures behind.
But now, thanks to the Arizona School of Dentistry and Oral Health in Mesa and Dental Services Group, she and 10 other evacuees will get their precious smiles — and confidence — back within the month.
"My personality will be better," 57-year-old Daniels said as she waited for a free consultation Saturday at the school.
"I will be able to laugh and talk with people without feeling ashamed," she said.
The idea arose when Janet Levinson, president of the dental consulting firm, heard that more than a dozen evacuees sent to the Valley needed new dentures after leaving theirs behind.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency will only reimburse the state for medical services covered by the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System or Medicaid. But dentures, which cost between $3,000 to $4,000 a set, are not covered by the plans, she said.
Levinson then called Jack Dillenberg, dean of the dental school, and he agreed to provide services for up to 40 people.
AHCCCS provided transportation and cell phones for the evacuees, and by 10 a.m. Saturday, each sat talking with denture specialists and students at the school.
Dillenberg said the evacuees could have their new dentures by Oct. 15.
"With the tragedy that happened, if we can bring a little joy (to the evacuees), what a gift that is," Dillenberg said.
The school will incur some extra expenses, such as a higher electricity bill and cost of dental impression materials, but Dillenberg said virtually everything else was donated.
Dental Services Group is donating the actual dentures after preliminary checkups are done, he said.
Daniels, who now lives with a family in Tempe, expressed her gratitude.
"We lost everything, but God has been good to us," she said. "People here have been wonderful."