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MIAMI (CBSMiami) — It’s not every day a dentist sees tears of joy from a patient.
“As a dentist, we always hear, ‘I hate the dentist,’ or ‘I hate going to the dentist,’” said Dr. Steven Roth. “As a dentist, it’s nice when someone comes out smiling and feeling better than when they came in.”
That was the gift Roth received from his patient, Kariza Fernandes, who left his office with her old magnetic smile, a smile she lost when Fernandes says her husband trapped her in a van, and battered her beyond recognition.
“I opened the handle of the van,” said Fernandes. “I broke the handle because I was so nervous. I tried to get out of the car, so I broke the handle. I tried to break the window with my feet, and he was coming all over me, trying to stop me or hold me.”
Fernandes says she was struggling to get out of the vehicle after he struck her, but he accelerated, and she was thrown from the van.
The next thing she knew, she woke up in the hospital with a broken jaw, a broken nose and five missing teeth.
“I felt alive, and I felt grateful right away,” said Fernandes. “I saw people looking at me really weird around the hospital. I looked like a dead person walking, totally destroyed.”
In the months that followed, her jaw was wired shut. She underwent surgeries but could not afford the cosmetic surgery to reconstruct her teeth until a friend connected her with Roth.
“When I heard about Kariza’s case, I’m like, I would love to do it,” said Roth. “Dentistry is an interesting art, and when you have the reward of making somebody smile and making them feel good about themselves, there’s nothing better.”
Fernandes instantly started sobbing with joy when she saw her smile in the mirror from her dental chair for the first time.
“It was the time that I valued the mirror the most in my life, when I saw my smile back,” she said. “One smile, one tooth can change a person’s whole character, personality, feelings.”
Fernandes posted videos of her journey on Facebook with the hopes of inspiring other women to come forward and leave their abusers. The messages she posted of herself speaking to other women with a swollen face and missing teeth have been viewed tens of thousands of times by people around the world.
“All the women who reached out to me and sent me amazing testimonials of what happened to them, I feel like I empowered them by showing my face,” she said. “I gave them the courage to talk about it.”
“If we all had Kariza’s charisma and her inspiration the world would be a better place,” said Roth, who thrives on charity work and once donated a whole month of his services to rebuild veterans’ smiles. “And let’s make it that way. Let’s focus on the positive. Let’s bring people forward and help each other. The world would be a lot better.”
Because of Roth’s generosity, Fernandes, who is a fashion designer, says she is using her own experience of adversity to help others going through the same thing, donating a portion of sales from her popular clothing line to organizations that help domestic violence victims.
“I always saw positive things out of this whole episode that happened,” she said. “I looked at it as a rebirth. I was reborn again.”