Distinguished Staff Award
Robin V. Luke

Robin V. Luke

Dental Hygienist, School of Dentistry, 2018

Nominated by Mary Giles, Administrative Coordinator, MEDEX Northwest, Dept of Family Medicine

Awarded 2018

Dear Distinguished Staff Award Committee:

Robin Luke changed my life.

Her tenderly ruthless plaque-scaling skills, adamant standards for dental health, and passion for patient education have reversed my periodontal disease, and empowered me with skills for lifelong self-care.

Ten years ago, at our first visit, I could not have predicted this happy ending. Robin’s first cleaning felt like an excavation at Olduvai Gorge! Her concern was my health under the gum line. She diagnosed early periodontal disease, measured and discussed my gum pockets, and urged 90-day cleanings and self-care tips. She even gave me a special toothbrush, a perio-aid toothpick holder, and therapeutic toothpaste sample.

Her assessment came as a real shock. I’d always prided myself on my brushing and flossing, and resolved to do better. Those appointments became such a meaningful challenge that one day, trapped in a UWMC bathroom stall by a stiff lock, I hollered for help and finally slid under the stall on my back to be on time for my appointment. But the news was still sobering. Despite my nightly care, new cavities had to be drilled each year; one tooth had to be extracted. Cleanings still brought pain and intense bleeding. We considered sedation with deep root scaling.

And all along, Robin suggested cutting out sugar and refined carbohydrates. Every day for years I ate one package of milk chocolate chips (1,760 calories, 200 grams of fat, 300 grams of sugar) plus cookies and candy. I had tried for 40 years to give up this central source of emotional comfort, and was convinced that I could not live without all my favorite sweets.

But Robin never gave up on me. While working (or sharpening the scaler after every fifth stroke), she kept telling me heartening stories about her super-hero patients who enjoyed good dental health after giving up all sugar and refined carbohydrates. She shared her constant reading and research on sugar and pain thresholds, vitamin C for connective tissues, vitamin D and fish oil in immune health. With profound humility she described her own struggles with holiday temptation lapses, and her continual progress in preparing delicious anti-inflammatory recipes. She had complete faith that one day I too would give up my sugar habit. “And today,” she would remind me, “is the very best day to start!”

At every visit she was so eager to hear about my progress. Between visits, every time I opened a package of chocolate, the thought of her hopeful expectation weighed on my conscience. One night, brushing and flossing away, I burst into tears. “There’s just got to be something we can do about my gum disease! But I CAN’T live without chocolate. If only Robin would understand!” Then, finally, the realization hit me: Robin did not have to understand sitting at the bottom of a wishing well; she was simply throwing me the rope, hoping that a fool would grab it.

So I quit sugar. It meant changing everything — diet, habits, routines, social activities, relationship patterns, bedtime. But soon I slept well and lost five pounds. Fasting glucose levels dropped, and reasoning ability and focus grew better. Nowadays even Robin’s scaling work feels like a pampering spa comfort.

At our next visit, Robin asked “What happened?! It’s gorgeous in here!” On hearing my news, her eyes misted over with happiness. She could not have been more pleased.

If only you could read the unwritten stories about Robin’s influence on the lives of her many patients. But you will never receive testimonials from the patients that Robin helps most — those with serious cognitive and emotional difficulties. From adjacent cubicles I’ve heard them lash out at her, cursing and screaming in terrible pain and fright. But this gentle caring woman shows the same devotion to everyone. In ten years, I have never heard her complain or show a sign of impatience. Robin’s dedication is a tremendous credit to your School of Dentistry, and to the University of Washington. She has just announced her retirement, and this is our only opportunity to recognize her work. It is well earned, and long overdue.

And she still takes no credit whatsoever for my happy ending. “YOU are MY inspiration!” she exclaims with a cheerful wave, hurrying on to her next patient.

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