Since Susan May had a golf ball-size tumor removed from her left cheek when she was 12 years old, a prosthesis has filled the gap in the roof of her mouth.
The prosthesis, which helps her to eat and breathe, was put in place 23 years ago by a young dentist at UCLA.
Today, May is in danger of serious illness if the old prosthesis is not replaced. In a turn of fate, she's working with the same dentist to have the procedure done.
The Merced resident needs to raise several thousand dollars for X-rays, medications and other costs.
The dentist, Craig Wada of Rocklin, has agreed to provide her with charity care.
The old prosthesis is falling apart and no longer covers the gaps on the roof of her mouth, leaving her susceptible to bacterial infections and other complications.
Without a good prosthesis, the single mother has a difficult time talking with her two sons, their friends and schoolteachers.
"She eats like a bird," said Samantha Brown, her cousin. "She has lost almost all of her teeth. When she talks, (the prosthesis) slips down and it's an embarrassment for her."
May said she made numerous requests to the Medi-Cal program to pay for a new prosthesis, but they were rejected on the grounds that it's a dental or cosmetic item. Most of the Medi-Cal dental benefits for adults were eliminated by state budget cuts in 2009.
May finally tried to find the dentist who did the original surgery.
Last year, she searched for Dr. Craig Wada on the Internet and found he has a practice in Rocklin, near Sacramento, specializing in mouth reconstruction and restorative dentistry.
In December, she emailed him asking if he remembered her. Wada replied that he did indeed remember.
He built the prosthesis for the 12-year-old patient in 1990 during the last year of a residency at UCLA. She was one of his major cases.
Wada proposes to drill into bone to insert a metal bar to support the new prosthesis and dentures. Brown said the old prosthesis is hooked to two back teeth that are loose.
The new implant is not designed to last forever; it will need to be checked after 10 years.
May has raised more than $4,000 on Giveforward.com, but she needs a total of $7,000.
She has lost weight from not eating right and is concerned she could become seriously ill without the restorative work. The procedures could be scheduled for November or December.
By correcting the problem, May hopes to start working and get off public aid.
"My children are scared for me," May said. "It's a bad situation. I want to be able to provide for my kids, and this is hindering me."
Donations to assist with her medical expenses may be submitted online at http://gfwd.at/1e1hhwV. The online account is under her maiden name, Susan Brown's Prostodontic Fund. Modesto Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2321.