Xavier Magazine

Primal Research

After traveling 300 days out of every year to speak to audiences around the world, renowned scientist Jane Goodall has perfected her greeting.


That, she tells the crowd of 3,000 who gathered at the Cintas Center on Oct. 9, is the distance call of the chimpanzee.

She would know. For the past 43 years, Goodall has spent her life learning the signals, habits and traits of the wild chimpanzees at Gombe National Park in Tanzania, Africa. It’s been a hard life, but it’s the only life she’s ever wanted.

When she was 10 years old, she announced that when she grew up she was going to go to Africa to study animals and write books. Everyone laughed at her for having such a wild dream. Everyone, that is, except her mother, Vanne. “She used to say, ‘Jane, if you want something, work hard, look for opportunities and you’ll find a way,’ ” says Goodall.

Since the family didn’t have the money to send Jane to a university, Vanne advised her daughter to go to secretarial school, telling her she’d be able to get a job anywhere. Goodall took her advice and later was hired to be an assistant for anthropologist Louis Leakey. Impressed with the knowledge she had gained solely from books, he offered her the opportunity to go to Africa to study chimpanzees. “He realized I didn’t care a lot about boyfriends and clothes or hairstyles and parties,” says Goodall. “I just wanted to learn about animals.”

It took a year for Leakey to get the money for her study. Nobody wanted to fund a woman, and the British authorities in Africa wouldn’t allow her to come unless she had a companion. So her mother came and stayed with her for the first few months. She was there to comfort Goodall when she came home frustrated because the chimpanzees were running away from her and she hadn’t discovered anything significant yet.

Then she made a critical discovery. Over time, the chimpanzees allowed her to come closer and she observed one of them taking a branch from a plant and modifying it into a tool to dig for termites to eat. “They use more objects as tools than any other animal except us,” says Goodall. “And they modify their tools. This tool-making behavior was the breakthrough.”

This challenged the notion that man was the only being capable of making and modifying tools. With this knowledge under her belt, Goodall’s six-month stay turned into a four-decade field study and the formation of the Gombe Stream Research Centre. In that time, Goodall’s research has continued to uncover similarities between humans and chimps. “They kiss and swagger and pat each other on the back, and it all means the same thing,” she says. “They have a sense of humor and can recognize themselves in mirrors. Only sophisticated language separates us.”

She also noticed that, like humans whose culture varies from place to place, chimpanzees also have diversity depending on location. Says Goodall, “Everywhere we’ve studied chimps, there are different tool-making techniques and behavior, which the little ones learn from their parents.”

Not all the similarities are as innocuous though. Like us, chimpanzees also have a dark side and can demonstrate aggressive behavior. Different groups of chimps have declared war on each other with one group’s males killing the other males in order to claim the young females. At first Goodall was told by the scientific community to keep this information to herself because people might feel that mankind’s tendency toward war and violence was inevitable since chimpanzees also demonstrated it.

Goodall’s response to this thinking is “chimps are so like us, capable of warfare, but we must also remember they are capable of love and compassion. Humans have basic aggressive traits—but we’ve also inherited traits of love and altruism. Aren’t we sophisticated enough to choose which traits to follow?”

Goodall is banking on mankind being smart enough to choose its compassionate nature over its aggressive one when it comes to chimpanzees and their habitat. According to her, even the future of the Gombe chimps, who live in a protected area, is uncertain.

“Fifteen years ago, European and Asian logging companies moved in, and the last pristine forest opened up and hunters from town could now ride on logging trucks. Deep in the forest there are hundreds of people who were never there before. They’re paying Pygmy hunters to shoot food for the logging staff. It’s totally unsustainable hunting.”

It’s not just foreigners wreaking havoc on the land. In an effort to feed their families and survive, natives are cutting down trees in order to plant crops. Even though the natives know clearing the land will cause soil erosion, they continue to do so out of desperation. “There are more people living on the land than the land can possibly support,” says Goodall. “People are struggling to exist.”

In an effort to combat this day-to-day struggle, she started a program in the village near Gombe that helps women find work, and offers AIDS prevention education and family planning counseling. It also helps conserve the land and even repairs some of the damage. “It’s turning around,” says Goodall. “Hills that were once bare now have new green growth.”

Seeing the return of foliage to a once barren field gives Goodall hope, something she’s often found lacking in the younger generation. “As I traveled, I was talking to young people who had lost hope and were angry because they thought we had corrupted their future,” she says. “We have.”

This inspired her to create a program for schoolchildren called Roots & Shoots. The program is active in 60 countries with all kinds of children: inner city, suburban and rural; rich and poor. Roots & Shoots is also in retirement homes and prisons. It teaches people how to make a better community, how to make the lives of animals better and how to help protect the environment. “It brings hope to me,” says Goodall. “I get a lot of energy from the program. Everywhere I go there are kids with shining eyes who make the world a better place.”

More than 300 children from nine local schools created a book of poems and artwork for Goodall while she was in Cincinnati. She had come to town to promote her Omnimax film Jane Goodall’s Wild Chimpanzees, which runs through Feb. 14, 2003, at the Cincinnati Museum Center. She also spoke at a fund-raising event to benefit both the museum and the Cincinnati Zoo. Wherever she goes, though, she asks people to think about what they can do to make the world a better place and then to go out and do it.

“It gives me greater reason for hope that more people are getting involved,” she says. “I’m trying to grow a family of caring people. Every one of us makes a difference every day.”

Xavier Magazine

All in Good Faith

Sean O’Dwyer slowly walked out into the parking lot of Ursuline Academy, an exclusive, all-girls school in the Cincinnati suburb of Blue Ash. The well-wishes and congratulations from colleagues were still ringing in his ears as he made his way toward his car, drowning out the sounds of his footsteps on the blacktop. For the last 20 years, O’Dwyer worked at the academy as a guidance director, and today was the end. He was retiring. Calling it a career.

As he reached his car and pulled out his keys, he turned and took one last look at the building. Two decades of his life were spent there, and they were about to become just memories. But retirement would be good—time spent on the golf course or visiting relatives in his native Ireland. It was a phase he was looking forward to, and as soon as he got home he would immediately begin celebrating that new beginning with his wife, Mary.

Except something happened. O’Dwyer never made it home that day.

As O’Dwyer drove, he began feeling ill. Light-headed. Granted, it was an emotional day, and anybody would feel a little uneasy. But this was different. It felt…dangerous. Rather than taking any chances, he detoured into his doctor’s office. The doctor sent him straight to the emergency room. After a battery of tests, O’Dwyer was diagnosed with blocked arteries and cardiomyopathy, a disorder of the heart muscle. A week later, he found himself lying on an operating table undergoing quadruple bypass surgery. But that was just the beginning.

Over the next four years, the O’Dwyers were hit with a series of major health problems. Sean developed kidney failure and bone cancer; Mary was diagnosed with breast cancer. Since both lived healthy lives—didn’t smoke or drink, no family history of these diseases, exercised regularly—the first question in their minds was “Why us?”

It’s a common question for anyone with a serious illness to ask. But the medical industry is taking a greater interest in how patients answer that question. Studies show that hospitalized people who believe and trust in God show greater rates of recovery and improved health. Those who aren’t religious not only struggle with their illness, but are at an increased risk for death—as much as a 28 percent greater mortality rate during the two-year period following their medical discharge.

The results are so conclusive, in fact, that more than half of all medical schools in the United States have started offering courses on spirituality.

“The first thing people do when they’re diagnosed is ask ‘Why me?’ or ‘Why me, God?’ ” says Dr. Harold Koenig, director of the Center for the Study of Religion/Spirituality and Health at Duke University. “Some turn away from their religion, or feel they’re being punished by God or that God doesn’t love them. When that happens, they don’t do well.”

For the O’Dwyers, their answer may have saved their lives.

The O’Dwyers are spiritual souls: he’s a former priest; she’s a former nun. They make weekly pilgrimages from their Hyde Park home to Bellarmine Chapel on the University campus for Mass. When their health problems hit, they turned to their faith. They received support from their parish community, which provided food, transportation and companionship. Letters from friends and family poured in. They’ve also made it a practice to meditate both together and alone.

“Sometimes when I’m depressed or overwhelmed with anxiety, I’ll wash my face with the Lord’s water and ask for help,” says Mary. “I then begin to release the stress, and after that I might sit down and pray or meditate.”

While the mental rewards of such practices are well-known, studies now show that they also convert into physical healing. Dr. Gail Barker, a 1976 graduate who earned her medical degree from the University of Cincinnati, says prayer and meditation actually trigger a physical healing reaction in the body.

“It lends itself to a great relaxation response, and that response is a stress reliever,” Barker says. “Everything just works better in your body. Your breathing slows down. Your blood pressure lowers. You take in more oxygen. Your immune system kicks in, and that allows your body to move toward healing in a better way. It pushes you in the direction of health. It’s only been in the last 10 to 15 years that there has been more informative data to support prayer with patients. It’s really made doctors take a second look. The mind-body connection is big.”

At the forefront of much of that research is the Duke center, where its studies show that people who attend church frequently may have more stable immune systems than less frequent attendees. It also found that levels of private religious activity—meditation, prayer, Bible study—are a significant predictor of mortality in healthy, nondisabled adults. Those who have little to no activity face a 47 percent greater risk of dying.

What’s also proving vitally important to the healing process is extending that spiritual component into the relationship with the physician. Many patients want to discuss spiritual issues with their physician, says Dr. Dale Matthews, an instructor at Georgetown University School of Medicine and author of “The Faith Factor: Proof of the Healing Power of Prayer.” He cites polls that show that 80 percent of all patients believe in the healing power of prayer, and two-thirds want their doctors to address spiritual issues with them.

“We as doctors need to pay attention to what a patient thinks is important,” says Matthews. “Many patients turn to religion to make important decisions in their lives.”

The biggest reason physicians don’t incorporate spiritual components into their practice, according to a study by the American Academy of Family Physicians, is expertise. They feel they lack the training to approach patients on faith-based matters, or to even identify those patients who desire spiritual discussions.

“It was very verboten a few years ago for doctors to mix religion and medicine,” says Barker. “Doctors turning to their faith were at risk for looking like they were trying to convert patients. Because of that, I’ve seen doctors who have a deep faith keep it out of any treatment. Patients can sense that.”

Medical schools are now working to bridge that gap. In 1992, only three out of the nation’s 126 accredited medical schools offered courses on incorporating spirituality into clinical care, says Dr. Christina Puchalski, director of the George Washington Institute for Spirituality and Health. By 2000, however, that number grew to 72 out of 125 schools.

“Patients are saying, ‘We want our spiritual issues addressed‚’ ” says Puchalski.

Sean and Mary O’Dwyer say their faith and spirituality have enriched their lives and helped them on their path toward healing. Sean’s cancer is stable and his heart condition improved, while Mary is recovering from her cancer.

“One of the things we’ve discovered is that through spirituality, we’ve gotten more in touch with each other,” says Mary. “Listening to our hearts and being sensitive to each other’s needs. Just by holding hands, it’s a whole different way of praying. We’re on a path to healing.”

Xavier Magazine

This Old House

It won’t be on a Hollywood tour of famous homes anytime soon, or in the Architectural Digest book of celeb-rity houses. But the white stucco bungalow with the Spanish tile roof that graces the corner of Victory Parkway and Ledgewood Drive is arguably one of the University’s—and Cincinnati’s—most historic properties. Adorned with the architectural elegance of previous eras but worn from decades of poor upkeep, the Villa, as it is now known, is the one-time residence of silent movie star Theda Bara.

Born in neighboring Avondale, Bara became an immensely popular film star in the early 20th century, ranking alongside Clara Bow and Charlie Chaplin in fame. Through her career of more than 40 movies, she evolved into one of Hollywood’s first sex symbols, flirting with the camera with her dark eyes and pushing the limits of acceptable dress long before Marilyn Monroe and Madonna were on the scene. It was Bara who coined the frequently misquoted line, “Kiss me, my fool,” and gave new meaning to the word “vamp” after playing a female vampire in her first major film, A Fool There Was, in 1915.

Though the details about her life in the Villa are blurry, it’s known that during the 1920s the 12-room Hollywood Mediterranean-style residence was one of the places she called home. The University acquired the Villa in 1979 in a six-building deal from Joseph Link Jr., a professor emeritus of economics. Included in the package were three apartment buildings—Linkshire, University and Manor House—along with Fraternity House and the Tudor Lodge. The University initially used the Villa as a residence for nuns on the faculty, and had plans to convert the estate into an alumni center. Before that happened, though, a housing crunch in the 1990s led to the building being modified into student housing—up to 14 people can live there.

Today, even amidst the modern refrigerators and dormitory furniture, one can still see glimpses of the glamour and style the home once held for Bara.

A smooth stone walkway winds from Victory Parkway up to the house, cutting a path between large, stately trees that cast afternoon shadows over the plush front lawn. The passage undoubtedly created a grand entrance to the home during Bara’s era, when the neighborhood was more residential and the street less of a speedway.

At the end of the pathway, a semicircular portico graces the front of the home, with its archways supported by spiraling columns that are topped with Corinthian acanthus leaf capitals. Three sets of French doors flood the front entryway with light, illuminating a Gothic fireplace decorated with Baroque volutes and Mesopotamian rosettes— symbols of fertility. The glass in each door is adorned by decorative Moorish tracery.

Exposed timbers with faint traces of painted designs stretch across the ceiling, while various hand-carved tiles beautify the floor underneath. Off the entryway in what was probably once a formal dining room, a gilded cornice encircles the domed ceiling with carvings of ram heads mounted in each corner. Both original bathrooms sport Rookwood tiles in Art Nouveau and Art Deco styles, while the larger one has a picture of cherubs and seagulls in raised pattern tiles over the bathtub.

The amalgamation of architectural styles continues throughout—a common trait to these types of homes, says Jerome Pryor, S.J., associate professor of art. Such eclectic mixtures are prevalent in Southern California, he says, lending credence to the account that Bara wanted her house here to match her Hollywood home.

The complete history of Bara’s time in the house, though, remains a mystery. A Cincinnati Enquirer article quotes Link as saying, “[Bara] came back and lived here two years in the ’20s, but got sinus like everyone else in Cincinnati, and moved back to California.” However, Eve Golden, author of Vamp: The Rise and Fall of Theda Bara, claims that the film star simply rented the house and used it for several years with her husband as a stopover point when traveling between New York and California.

Either way, the home has the amenities worthy of someone of Bara’s status—a walk-in cedar closet, a dumbwaiter that goes downstairs, and a separate servants entrance on the side of the house.

The grandeur of the house’s glory days is becoming somewhat lost to the ravages of time and necessity. Gently arched doorways have been covered to create walls as part of the conversion into student housing. Detailing is being lost to deterioration. No renovations are planned, though. Still, the students who live there don’t mind.

“The students love the house even though they have to share it with so many people,” says Cindy Lowman-Stieby, campus manager for student apartments and houses. “It’s so big and spacious and has a lot of character. They like it because it’s older and not perfect and not beige.”

Which is understandable—beige would not be suitable for a star of the silver screen.

Xavier Magazine

Climbing Mt. Debt

College students nationwide are facing a problem more daunting than anything the toughest professor can dish out—credit card debt. According to a 2000 analysis done by student loan provider Nellie Mae, 78 percent of students age 18-25 now have at least one credit card, up from 67 percent in 1998, and they’re graduating with $2,748 in credit card debt, up from $1,879. Calculating an annual percentage rate of 18 percent and making only the minimum monthly payments, it would take a student 15 years to pay off the card. It’s a plague that’s infecting campuses around the country, including Xavier.

The problem, say those familiar with the issue, is twofold: the student’s financial inexperience, and changes in lending regulations in the early 1990s that now allow 18-year-olds to obtain credit cards without a parent’s cosignature.

Following the legal changes, banks and credit card companies began working their way onto campuses. Today, they see college students as a prime market audience. They staple application forms onto classroom bulletin boards right next to the roommate-wanted signs and movie posters. They have telemarketers call the dorms, offering immediate approval over the phone. They set up tables on campus and at popular spring break destinations, baiting students with incentives such as free shirts or hats to get them to fill out an application.

“They’re dangling toys in front of them to get them to sign,” says Tom Barlow, Xavier’s director for auxiliary services. “I did not feel Xavier should condone solicitations that could cause harm to the students.”

Barlow has taken Xavier further than many colleges in an effort to counteract this growing trend. Credit card solicitations are prohibited on campus. If students want a credit card, they should make the decision after talking to their families, not after being sweet-talked by marketers. He’s also helped create the financial aspect of the University’s wellness program.

“People usually think of wellness as mental, physical and social, but one of the central aspects of wellness is financial,” Barlow says. “The most miserable thing a person can do is get in a hole and find they’re not financially stable.”

Students at Xavier would soon agree. members of the student government association worked to keep solicitors off campus and to make sure telephone information isn’t sold to companies, says SGA president Mark Mallett, a senior. Mallett’s seen firsthand the effects of the presence of credit card companies on a campus—he has friends who are inundated with phone calls and personal solicitations. “I know one guy in particular who got two cards and used them,” he says. “Now he’s paying them off and wishing he had never gotten them.”

Another way the University is working to keep students financially healthy is through the All Card—the student ID card that doubles as a prepaid money card. “The key factor is it’s a prepaid debit program, not debt,” says Barlow. “It was established after a parent focus group met in 1993. Parents today still feel very strongly about Xavier only doing prepaid debit type programs.” The All Card Center, in conjunction with Firstar Bank, offers free workshops each semester to teach students good financial management. Topics include Your Credit History, Spotting Credit Trouble and Creating Good Credit.

Offering financial management assistance is a part of Firstar’s duties as the University’s official bank, no matter what bank the student uses.

“Students who find themselves in credit card debt can come to us and ask us for advice and we’ll sit down with them and come up with a solution,” says Jim Marshall, Firstar’s senior vice president of group banking. “There’s a concept in student wellness that students shouldn’t be behind the eight ball when they leave. Xavier takes a concentrated look at what students should and shouldn’t be leaving college with, and they shouldn’t be leaving with a lot of debt.”

Xavier Magazine

Profile: Craig Giesze

What do you do with an economics degree, skills in four languages, proficiency with technology and “a crazy ability to combine it all?” If you’re like Craig Giesze, you earn a law degree and open the first full-service, virtual law firm specializing in providing services to U.S. companies doing business in the booming Latin American market.

Giesze actually formed four firms in 1995—CRG Enterprises, CRG Consulting, CRG Chile and CRG Mexico—that help U.S. companies bridge the cultural differences, commercial practices, language barriers and unfamiliar legal requirements of Latin American commerce. Giesze coordinates a cadre of more than 30 American and Latin American attorneys, accountants and economists.

“I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, but it had to be international,” he says. He speaks fluent English and Spanish and is conversational in French and Portuguese. A native of Cleveland, he got his first taste of international life through Xavier’s Fredin memorial scholarship to study at La Sorbonne in Paris, France.

“When I came back from France, I looked at a map of the world and decided the best language to learn would be Spanish,” he says. “There were already lots of business opportunities in Latin America.” Giesze completed a Spanish studies program at Javeriana University in Bogota, Colombia, then went to Georgetown University, earning degrees in international law and foreign service.

He started thinking about his own firm in 1994 while working for the Mexican Congress on a Fulbright Scholarship. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) went into effect and, “I looked at where the world was going, and saw it going international,” he says. “I saw the Mexican middle class getting more money so companies like Wal-Mart could sell there. I think NAFTA got business people looking south for the first time.”

Giesze observed the differences in the legal systems; the United States uses the common law system from England and Latin America uses the civil system from Roman law. “The way they analyze and come to conclusions is radically different,” he says. “An Amer-ican judge and a Latin American judge could look at the same law and come up with two different answers. Few lawyers can analyze international law in both systems.”

He also noticed another phenomenon: the Internet. It effortlessly crosses borders, eliminating many international barriers. “I can have people in America, Chile and Mexico working on the same project because we can research on the Internet and communicate through e-mail. And we can do it faster. The birth of my companies really came from that vision of the combined services we could offer. We’ve eliminated all cultural and legal barriers. It’s as if you’re doing the transaction in Dayton or Columbus.”


Photography by Barbara San Martin

Xavier Magazine

Sculpting a New Life

Annie Swantko earned a bachelor’s degree in theology in 1982, so she knew the Biblical analogy about life being like clay—formable, functional, fragile. It wasn’t until after a horrible accident, though, that she came to truly understand about life and clay.

Shortly after earning an M.B.A. in 1988, Swantko’s car was hit by a truck. She spent the next three years in rehabilitation. Looking for something to keep her occupied, she began molding clay. Its malleability was therapeutic, and her sculpting skills helped open a new door for her—figuratively and literally. In 1996, she opened Annie’s Mud Pie Shop, a 78-square-foot pottery store in Cincinnati. Today, the shop’s 24,000 square feet and attracts about 200 students a week.

“I love the challenges of developing a small business,” she says. “I worked 80 hours a week for five years, but the opportunity to get your life back and define who you are gives you a strength you may not otherwise have had.”

Xavier Magazine

Offering Hope

When her husband died suddenly in a drowning accident, one of the ways Cynthia Beischel dealt with her grief was to keep a journal of her thoughts and feelings. Then she began to write articles for magazines. She was told by editors that they were good, just that there was no market for them. That’s when she got the idea for the book From Eulogy to Joy.

“One night I was talking with my friend about how frustrated I was over the trouble I had getting published,” says the 1974 graduate. “That’s when a light bulb went off in my head. That was the beginning of it. I knew I wanted offer something to people who were grieving.”

She and her friend Kristina Chase Strom, who attended Edgecliff, compiled stories from people who had dealt with all kinds of death in all manner of ways. “It’s a universal topic and a universal event, but we’re all individuals and grieve in our own way,” says Beischel. “There’s no prescribed 1-2-3- step for grieving where you get over it. This is a how-it-is book, not a how-to book. We wanted to say how it is so people can feel supported, validated and connected. It’s like a support group in the pages.”

Contributors to the book include New York Times best-selling author Neale Donald Walsh and Judy Belushi, the widow of actor John Belushi. One story, “Danny’s Gift,” was dramatized on the PAX channel show “It’s a Miracle,” hosted by Richard Thomas.

“My hope is that it becomes a long-term resource book that will be kept by people to turn to when they’re dealing with death,” says Beischel. “It’s the kind of book you dig into at different times. There are so many layers to it.” Another resource offered is on the book’s web site, There readers can respond to the stories they’ve read and interact with the writers.

Xavier Magazine

Clothing Web Site Proves to be Good Fit

The jobs listed on Jeff Recker’s résumé can only be described as eclectic—Montana fishing guide, diamond broker, surgical equipment salesman, Hollywood actor. And on April 11 at 5:09 p.m., he added another to the list: women’s plus-size clothing salesman. That’s when he and a partner launched a web site,

After noticing the words “plus size” got several blind hits a day from Internet browsers, the two began researching the subject and reading Women’s Wear Daily. They soon learned that plus-size apparel sales are valued at $30 billion a year. “Once we figured that out,” says Recker, a 1989 graduate, “we asked, ‘How can we make this happen?’ It was a case of opportunity really knocking and us answering the door.”

The site links women to various designers and brands that carry plus-size clothing and accessories. They also have a column by spokesperson/model Christine Alt, industry news and a way for women to interact with advice and comments.

“What we’ve created is so necessary because there hasn’t been a site that women can go to solve the frustrations plus- size consumers experience,” says Recker. “This site will empower them to make better choices and offer them more choices.”

Xavier Magazine

Cincinnati’s History is Radio Active Documentary

What do Doris Day, Eddie Albert and Red Skelton have in common? Their careers started on radio in Cincinnati. “People don’t realize how big Cincinnati was in radio and how many people got their start here,” says Mike Martini, WVXU’s documentary director. “Between 1934 and 1939, WLW had 500,000 watts. It was the only American station ever to broadcast at that much power.”

Martini and colleague Mark Magistrelli captured this influential era in their documentary CD set “Cincinnati Radio: The Early Years (1921-1941),” scheduled for release in September. The CD mixes interviews along with recordings of dramas, comedies and musical programs. Highlights include the first-known recording of Doris Day (on WLW in 1939), an excerpt from the “Fats” Waller program, Eddie Albert singing and excerpts from Red Skelton’s show “Avalon Time.” Media critic Leonard Maltin from “Entertainment Tonight” narrates the CD.

Martini earned degrees in 1987 and 1993. Magistrelli, a 1982 graduate, produced the award-winning CD set, “Cincinnati Radio—The War Years,” in 1991. Assembling this latest collection was a bit more challenging, though, because few recordings still exist. “We’re hoping we can bring some attention to the national role that Cincinnati played in radio,” says Magistrelli. “At the time, Cincinnati was right up there with New York and Chicago. It was the third-largest city in radio in the nation.”

“There was a period when we were a pretty important place,” says Martini. “You had a great deal of national focus coming out of Cincinnati.”

Xavier Magazine

Open Wide

When pediatric dentist David Sullivan gets called to work on the teeth of 12-year-old Sumar, he knows he’s in for a challenge. Whenever the tawny-haired patient sees the doctor and realizes he’s going to have dental work done, he hides in a corner.

“One time he held his breath during the anesthesia,” says Sullivan. “He’s been very creative and he’s got a reputation.”

This may sound like a typical dentist horror story, but Sumar isn’t your average 12-year-old. He’s 7 feet long, weighs 200 pounds and lives in the cat house at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens. He’s a jaguar. “He’s a nightmare,” says Sullivan. “We’ve done root canals on all four of his canines, but one at a time. He likes to play dead and knows all the tricks to wake up early. Luckily, animals wake up really slow.”

Sullivan, who has spent 19 years moonlighting as the zoo’s dentist, never expected to be working on big cats, primates, elephants and other such animals when he became a pediatric dentist. Then again, he never expected to be a dentist. The 1975 graduate originally wanted to be a veterinarian. Those plans were scrapped when, while apprenticing for a vet, he learned he had severe allergies and couldn’t work full time with animals—he can handle zoo animals on a part-time basis only.

His introduction to pediatric dentistry came from a neighbor. “What seemed like the biggest disappointment of my life, not being able to become a vet, turned out to be a blessing, because I love what I do,” he says. “I’m happier being a pediatric dentist than I think I would have been as a vet, but I still get to be a vet on a limited basis. Having the zoo thing come around really completed the circle.”

When Sullivan heads to the zoo, his 13-year-old daughter, Ann Marie, occasionally tags along. She was with him last year when he performed a tooth extraction on a desert cat and gave a periodontal treatment to a gibbon monkey. “My daughter loves the chimps,” he says, “and one of the helpers had a chimpanzee. They usually keep everybody away from them, but Vihm, the chimp, came over and put his arm around Ann Marie. She told me later, ‘Dad, that was the coolest thing that’s ever happened to me.’ ”

Vihm is Sullivan’s favorite patient, and one that he sees fairly often. The chimpanzee was reared by human keepers after being abandoned by his mother. Now, other chimps often knock him away because he tries to hang on their shoulders, like a human, instead of around their waists, like a chimp. “Vihm’s been smacked around by the other chimps, so we’ve treated him a few times for trauma to his teeth,” says Sullivan. “He’s really cool. He’ll let you do an exam on him without any tranquilizers.”

A visit with Vihm last December was followed later that day by a more impromptu piece of dentistry. Sullivan, a member of the men’s basketball pep band as an undergraduate, still enjoys watching the Musketeers play. He was at the Marquette game last season when a stray elbow dislocated guard Maurice McAfee’s jaw. “It was pretty obvious,” says Sullivan, “because when your jaw dislocates, your mouth is stuck open. When I saw him running around, I knew what happened. Sometimes you can pop it back in yourself. I could tell he was trying to but couldn’t get it back in. Then he took himself out of the game.”

Team physician Bob Burger knows Sullivan and summoned him from the stands. Sullivan soon found himself in the training room repositioning McAfee’s jaw. “It only took three to five minutes, then he went back out and finished the half.”

Kids and animals remain Sullivan’s specialty, however, and both can be challenging. “A lot of times kids can’t tell you what’s wrong, and animals rarely can. There’s variability in both and you have to be creative in handling them. You also learn to keep your fingers in certain places and out of certain places—with everybody.”

Sullivan concedes there is one thing kids do better than animals—listen to him. “The animals just won’t brush and floss no matter how much I tell them.”