Nowadays, Lía Patricia Gallo is probably the best fed dentist in the United States. But when she arrived from Colombia to the United States 17 years ago, she took the only job she could find: cleaning houses. Despite having worked in dentistry for nearly a decade in Colombia, she couldn’t practice in the US because her degree didn’t carry over. She also couldn’t just jump back into her studies in the United States because she didn’t have the English skills necessary to enroll in school. But despite this grand sacrifice, she moved in 2000 because of her husband’s engineering career and to build a better future for her daughters.
According to Mundo Hispanico, she didn’t practice dentistry for the next seven years. But a US dentist changed the course of her life. He offered a job in his practice and a chance to learn English – so long as she taught him Spanish. This, in part, allowed her to gain the skills she needed to pursue her degree. After passing several professional tests, she applied to the University of School of Dental Medicine. Out of 2,800 applicants, she became one of the 20 students accepted. By 2007, Gallo earned her second dentistry degree.
And while all the work she put in to get to that point is impressive, it’s what follows that makes her truly inspirational. Upon graduating, she didn’t want to work for someone. So she searched for a $1 million loan in her new home of Gainesville, Georgia. She reached out to several banks and put her $2,000 car as collateral. In January 2008, she opened GDC Smiles. She currently employs seven Latinos – including two recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
Not only is her business supporting other Latinos, she’s also using her practice to change the lives of people who need a boost. Working with organizations New Beginnings and No Longer Bound, she’s donated approximately $200,000 of free dental work for those recovering from drug addiction. “I was in jail for close to 20 years, because of my involvement with drugs,” said David Carter, who came to Gallo because of No Longer Bound. “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 event to talk. 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 things is that I smile all the time, because people tell me that my teeth are my best feature.”
Additionally, through Good News Clinic, she’s helped about 200 low-income Latino patients. According to the American Dental Association, the average cost per patient in 2013 was $685 – a cost-prohibitive number for many, especially for those who don’t have insurance. Gallo finds helping those who most need it so rewarding.
“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,” she said. “That fills me more than any money they could give me, because that is my mission and this is how I will complete it.”