Thomas E. Coleman loves corn on the cob, but it has been over a month
since he has been able to eat any. Coleman, 48, had the misfortune of
watching his dentures float away Aug. 29, when the surge swept through
his east Biloxi neighborhood taking nearly everything in its path.
Soon, however, he will have the good fortune of a new, free set of
teeth, courtesy of Dr. Peter A. Norowski.
I first met Coleman at a Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team
center on Sept 9. He, his brother, James, a nephew and a cousin had come
to fill out forms and give DNA samples because his sister, Myra Booker,
went missing the day of the storm.
While being questioned about Myra, the subject of dentures came up.
Coleman started talking about losing his, and the five of us sitting
there found ourselves rolling around with laughter when Coleman said it
took him 45 minutes to eat a ham sandwich when it took a friend of his
just 10 minutes.
"I can�t eat no corn, no threemp," Coleman said through his toothless
While Coleman�s delivery was hysterical, the situation was tinged with
sadness. Coleman, who has been living on public assistance for several
years, could clearly not afford a new set anytime soon.
I related this story in the newsroom one day, and when the paper�s
editor, Stan Tiner, heard it, he put it in his column, along with an
open plea for any dentists to help.
Norowski read the column shortly after his return to Biloxi following
the storm and jumped at the chance to help.
"When we got back, we saw how bad things were," said Norowski, who�s
been practicing dentistry on the Coast since 1981. "We were helping with
the Red Cross with toothaches and such. We just wanted to help. I felt
fortunate that we still had an office."
Norowski prescribed medications for individuals in urgent trouble, but
there was not much else he could do, he said. So, he sent Stan an email,
and Stan passed on his contact information to me.
Coleman can be a hard man to reach. He is using a neighbor�s telephone
in Vancleave while staying at his cousin�s house because his home is
gone. After several abortive attempts, I finally got Coleman and
Norowski in touch with each other and the two got together for the first
Norowski�s office is decorated with Elvis and rock�n�roll memorabilia,
as he was born and raised in Memphis.
A tall man with sandy-blond hair and a bright smile, Norowski said he
loves his job. He does a little bit of everything in his office, from
root canals to cleanings to the occasional surgery. His office is a
little lonely though, he said, which is why he is offering one of the
seven spare rooms to any of the 37 dentists who�s offices were destroyed
by the storm.
Coleman, who got there Thursday before the office even opened, shuffled
around a little sleepily. Norowski said he decided to cram three visits
worth of procedures into one, because he felt bad that Coleman had gone
so long without teeth. That meant a long day for Coleman.
The procedure for new dentures is complicated. It involves measuring the
jaw bones precisely, making molds of the gums, wax mock-ups of the final
model and finally setting all 24 teeth individually in the dentures for
a perfect fit.
Norowski�s office, as well as Acryllic Arts, the studio that puts the
final package together, will incur all costs. Norowski said it was just
the least he could do, and if he finds patients in situations like
Coleman�s in the future, he will be happy to do it again.
Coleman was sitting quietly in the dentist�s chair after Norowski made a
final mold of his gum line around noon. He nearly regurgitated the
hamburger that he gnawed on for lunch when they put the massive
mouthpiece in, but the soothing nature of Norowski and his assistant
Mary Jo King quickly calmed him down.
Afterwards, thoughts of new teeth lit up his face and had him thinking
about the post-denture menu already.
"I�m going to buy four ears of corn and butter them up and eat them
all," Coleman said.
This photo by Joshua Norman