For Colombian dentist Lía Patricia Gallo, the ‘American Dream’ was different than that of many other immigrants. Hers was to be able to change people’s lives with the only thing she had to offer: her job. She never imagined, however, that she would end up transforming not only the life of her own family but the lives of over 300 people, both Hispanics and Americans, in Georgia.
Gallo first arrived in the United States 17 years ago, seeking a better future for her daughters and a safer environment for her family. She did not speak any English, only eventually learning the language because she did not have the money to pay for her schooling.
Gallo went seven years without practicing her profession because of her undocumented status and she could not attend college due to her lack of proficiency in English.
In order to help her spouse, Gallo found work cleaning homes, until she met an American dentist who offered her a job, in exchange for Spanish lessons. Thanks in part to that opportunity, Gallo later completed her studies at the University of Colorado, where she became one of only 20 individuals to be accepted, out of the 2,800 who applied.
It took Gallo eight years to complete her dental degree in the U.S., after which she realized her true goal was to open her own practice.
New to Georgia, Gallo visited several banks in search of a million-dollar business loan, the necessary amount to build and equip her office. Using a car valued at just $2,000 as collateral, Gallo obtained a loan.
Currently, Gallo employs seven Hispanic female workers, two of whom are hygienists and what are referred to as “Dreamers,” or undocumented immigrants who come to this country at a young age. Gallo provides these young women with financial assistance in order to help pay for their educations.
Her support does not end there, though. Gallo has donated dental treatments which normally cost approximately $200,000 to 62 individuals in recovery for drug addiction, through the organizations New Beginnings and No Longer Bound. She has also donated treatments to more than 200 low-income Hispanics through the organization Good News Clinic.
David Carter, one of the beneficiaries of Gallo’s donations to No Longer Bound, affirms that the dentist had a huge impact on his life.
“I was in jail for close to 20 years, because of my involvement with drugs. I entered at age 18, and I got out last year, at age 37. When I was there, I lost my teeth from fighting, and it was embarrassing even to talk, he said. “Dr. Gallo completely restored my teeth, and now I have a job, I go to church, I spend time with people, and the most important thing is that I smile all the time, because people tell me that my teeth are my best feature. She gave me back the will to live, which I had lost as a young child when my father died,” says Carter.
For Gallo, helping others is fundamental. She has lost track of how many people have come to her practice seeking help, cases which Gallo carefully analyzes, and if they are individuals who truly need it, she does not hesitate to go to work fixing their smiles.
“It’s almost always low income immigrants and the most satisfying thing is that even if they don’t have the money to pay me, they thank me with tortillas, chicken soup, tamales and flowers for my home,” said Gallo. “That fills me more than any money they could give me, because that is my mission and this is how I will complete it.”
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