Dentist’s love for the ocean and helping others runs deep

Written by Shaun Ryan

Before becoming a dentist, Dr Spike Jan would spend all his free time in or under the water.
For Spike, there is nothing like being out on the waves and in the fresh, salty air.

“My uncle taught me how to sail and the ocean became my happy place. From the doldrums to the scariest storms, I’ve always loved the adventure of the high seas,” explained Spike.

Sailboat racing and a love for travelling saw Spike explore the world.

He moved to Hervey Bay with his family in 1999 and planned to stay for 10 years.

But more than 20 years later, Spike still calls the seaside town home.

He opened Hervey Bay Dental in 2000 and has been helping people share the perfect smile ever since.

“I knew I always wanted to be a dentist and I had a mentor who was a perfectionist. He instilled a desire in me to combine art and science,” said Spike.

“As a family practitioner, I enjoy all aspects of dentistry.”

In 2014, Spike’s love for the sea and dentistry came together when he boarded a Mercy Ships vessel for the first time and sailed to Papua New Guinea.

“I took three of my children on the trip with me. I had applied to help build a school, but the missionaries insisted that I go in a dental capacity,” he said.

Spike believes people are put on Earth to help do God’s work.

“God has put opportunities in front of us to help others. We are very blessed here in Australia and I always wanted to travel to help those less fortunate than us,” he said.

And the Mercy Ships program allowed Spike to do just that.

All of his trips with Mercy Ships have been to Papua New Guinea, where Spike saw people living in abject poverty and would not normally be able to access dental care.

He recalled one trip when the ship docked and the dental crew climbed off and started hiking to a remote village.

“The ships are kitted out with great dental surgeries but we would often venture off to nearby villages. This time, we were asked if we could hike,” said Spike.

They packed dental supplies into bags and carried a fold-up dental chair towards the village about 8km away.

“After about five hours I was hot, dehydrated and irritated. I asked what it was all for. I thought I was there to do dental work, not carry equipment around.”

Spike soon realized the magnitude of what they were doing as the whole village was happy to see the team.

“Some people in the remote villages are still quite hesitant to see dentists. I didn’t really know why we were there.

“Then up from the beach a man with cerebral palsy walked through the gates and waved. I knew at that moment he was the only reason why we were there. There was no way he could have gotten to see us anywhere else.”

Spike sat and spoke to the man for a while with the help of an interpreter. He learnt the patient had been suffering from toothaches for quite some time.

“I got to work.

“While he was lying in my fold up dental chair, I looked up at the people who had gathered to watch what we were doing. And there was a young school student standing wearing a shirt from the school across the road from my house in Australia. The school my children had gone to.”

Spike said it was as if someone had paved the way for them to be there.

“I’ll never forget the patient’s face and smile.”

Spike said being able to use his skills and help others was the most rewarding experience.

His wife, Rachel works as an occupational therapist and has also worked on a Mercy Ship vessel, as have some of their children.

“I am a very proud father and husband,” he said.

“The body of Christ needs hands and feet to reach all parts of the world. But you don’t always need to travel to remote areas to help people. The person who you might need to help could be in front of you in the queue at the shops or the man sleeping in the park. It is important that we love our neighbours,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Global Mercy, the world’s largest civilian hospital ship completed its deep-water trials earlier this year.

The trials are one of the vessel’s final milestones ahead of its delivery, equipping, maiden voyage and launch into service to sub-Saharan Africa.

Mercy Ships expects to more than double its current impact through life changing surgeries and training of healthcare professionals during the Global Mercy’s anticipated 50-year lifespan.

The ship’s first field service mission will be to Senegal in 2022.