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By CHELSI MOY of the Missoulian | Posted: Thursday, November 19, 2009 10:00 pm

Thanks to the generosity of many, Heather Stone, a 33-year-old who is blind and has autism, may be able to see a dentist sooner than expected.

Two weeks ago, Stone was raking leaves in order to raise enough money to make her first visit to a dentist in 12 years. Following a Nov. 5 Missoulian article outlining Stone’s desperate need for dental care and her inability to pay, a flood of support from people in the Missoula and Bitterroot valleys helped Stone raise $6,000 – half of the total dental bill.

“It was an outpouring of kindness,” said Treva Bittinger, a close friend and organizer of the Neuro Networking Club, a local group of young adults with autism. “I’m so thrilled with Missoula that they would care and that they would donate.”

In the last two weeks, members of the Neuro Networking Club have raked 27 lawns in exchange for donations, all of which go to Stone’s dental care. Members of the University of Montana women’s rugby club also pitched in raking leaves. Others mailed checks. Griz football coach Bobby Hauck donated an autographed football signed by the UM football team, which the club hopes to soon raffle off, Bittinger said.

The Susan Talbot Home for Girls – a Youth Homes program for girls with emotional problems stemming from a history of abuse and neglect – offered its assistance.

“They wanted to help Heather, but they had no money, so they helped us rake leaves,” Bittinger said.

In fact, the first donation Stone received was from a homeless man on the bus, she said.

On Friday, A Carousel for Missoula is hosting a fundraiser for Stone. For the last year, Stone has volunteered at the carousel bagging coins and candy. Carousel employees are donating their time to run the carousel between 4 and 6 p.m. and are providing snacks. Coca-Cola is donating soft drinks. All the money raised will go directly to Stone’s dental payments.

Also, armbands that say “A Healthy Smile 4 Heather” will be available in exchange for a donation.

“Carousel employees are always happy to see her smiling face and her gentle guide dog, Chateau,” said executive director Theresa Cox.

People with autism love to spin. So the carousel is the ultimate fun activity for the members of the Neuro Networking Club, Bittinger said.

“Heather volunteered so she could ride the carousel for free,” she said. “It’s her favorite thing to do.”

A lack of access to quality care, genuine fear of the dentist, and lack of money to pay for regular visits has wreaked havoc in Stone’s mouth over the past decade. She has nine cavities and five teeth that need to be pulled.

Because Stone has autism, a trip to the dentist is a far more traumatic experience than it is for an average individual. That’s why she will need to be hospitalized and sedated for the dental procedure, which is scheduled for May.

Read in Full:  http://www.missoulian.com/news/local/article_95dad056-d594-11de-90dd-001cc4c03286.html

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