Pediatric Dentistry and Community Oral Health Raise Almost $5,000 to Grant Wish for Young Boy

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Teague Niebrugge’s wish to visit The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is coming true thanks to funds raised from the UTHSC Pediatric Dentistry and Community Oral Health Department. Pictured left to right: Joey Niebrugge, Dr. Sarah Karnish, Donnie Niebrugge, Teague Niebrugge, DJ Niebrugge, Skylar Niebrugge, and Lindsey Niebrugge. (Photo courtesy of Sarah Karnish from her recent trip home to make the announcement to Teague and his family.)

The Pediatric Dentistry and Community Oral Health Department in the College of Dentistry at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center raised almost $5,000 to grant a special wish for an Oklahoma boy.

Teague Niebrugge, a seventh-grader at Dear Creek Middle School in Edmond, Oklahoma, lost his vision at age five. His family later learned that his blindness was one of the symptoms of a rare neurodegenerative condition called Batten disease.

Teague is the cousin of Sarah Karnish, DDS, chief resident for the graduate Pediatric Dentistry Program at UTHSC. He is also an avid Harry Potter fan. Teague’s number one wish was to visit The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando, Florida according to Dr. Karnish. 

His health condition at the time made it impossible to make the trip. But thanks to the UTHSC College of Dentistry, Teague will get his wish.

Todd Smith, DDS, assistant professor in the Department of Pediatric Dentistry and Community Oral Health, happened to see a news story from an Oklahoma station that also aired in Memphis showing Teague’s seventh grade classmates surprising him at Halloween by transforming a room at their school into Hogwarts, the mythical school of magic attended by students in the Harry Potter series.

“I had mentioned my little cousin to Dr. Todd Smith just in passing and talking about life and work,” Dr. Karnish said. “We are a pretty close knit group here in residency and so he knew about the situation, but he didn’t know a whole lot. We were actually doing our interviews for the next upcoming residency class and we did a big social the night before. I kept getting a phone call from Dr. Todd and he told me, ‘I just saw your little cousin on TV.’ ”

Touched by the creative and generous spirit of Teague’s classmates, the Department of Pediatric Dentistry and Community Oral Health raised the funds through donations to make the boy’s wish come true.

“We have spent our entire career with helping to make things better for children and this was just another way of us doing that,” Dr. Smith said. “Sarah is a part of our family and when we saw that his (Teague’s) wish couldn’t be granted the conventional way, we all jumped into action to see what we could do. And it snowballed from there with our faculty, staff, and a few of our colleagues in private practice making donations to help make his wish come true.”

Dr. Karnish presented a check to the Niebrugge family on her last trip home. The donation, which is covering the flight, hotel arrangements, and theme park tickets, will allow Teague, his parents, and two siblings, to experience a little magic at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

The family will make the trip the first week of February. “They are so grateful and overwhelmed,” Dr. Karnish said.

“I think that’s why a lot of us went into pediatric dentistry and dentistry in general, just our love for giving back to others and having a skill that we can use to give back to others and make a positive difference,” Dr. Karnish said. “When you’re in the service field, this is something you’re compelled to do.”

The Make-A-Wish Foundation in Oklahoma recently granted another wish of Teague’s, a trip to the Grand Canyon. His family plans to make their trip next month.