A shooting in Jamaica left Dermain Badal's teeth shattered, but with the help of a Tampa dentist, the teen has reason to smile again.
By LOGAN MABE
Published June 6, 2003
[Times photos: Mike Pease]
Dermain Badal's hobby is building replicas of jet planes, like this one made from sheet metal.
Dermain Badal talks with dentist Tom Frankfurth during a recent office visit.
Dermain Badal's smile is nearly fixed.
NORTHDALE - Dermain Badal shears and shapes the rolls of thin aluminum with the care of a cake decorator. With a small, sharp blade he meticulously carves out 74 perfect passenger windows of the jetliner. Working from his detailed No. 2 pencil sketches, he refashions the tail section so that it is more aeronautically accurate.
On this day, Badal is beaming at the result of his latest breakthrough. After months of work, he has finished a new version of the nose cone that leaves him amazed.
"The front looks so real," Badal says, his sing-song Caribbean patois emphasizing the words. "This is the best plane I've ever built, and it's got the best front I've ever built. It's . . . perfect!"
And then he smiles his almost perfect smile. The gleaming grin is something new for Badal. Raised by his grandmother in Jamaica, Badal had his smile stolen from him in a freak shooting spree two years ago.
Since then he has found a new home with his mother in the North Lakes neighborhood, settled into the teeming teen scene at Gaither High School and, in recent weeks, gotten reconstructive surgery from a good Samaritan dentist.
Kites and Airplanes
Badal grew up in Kingston, Jamaica's hard-scrabble capital. His mother, Maud Codner, was 15 when she gave birth to him, so Badal's grandmother raised him. Codner moved to the United States when her son was still an infant.
"Jamaica was fun," said Badal, now 16. "Sometime I lived with my grandmother. Sometime I lived with my father. I kept moving. But it was fun. We went to the beach all the time. In kite season, we built kites."
When it wasn't kite season, Badal built airplanes. Always planes.
"My dream is to be a pilot," Badal said. "It was like I was born for it. I wanted to be a pilot so bad that's why I started building planes. Now I just can't stop. And I'm getting better at it."
Badal's dream almost ended two summers ago. His grandmother had given him money to buy fish at the market.
"I don't remember much," Badal said. "It was like seeing a shadow." In that shadow were two men, riding up on bicycles as he paid for the fish.
"I heard just one shot fired, and I could feel everything break in my jaw," he said. A bullet passed through the right side of Badal's face, destroying teeth with its brutal force.
Dazed and bloody, Badal stumbled into the street and managed to walk to a nearby hospital. While doctors worked on his shattered face, he learned that an 8-year-old boy had also been shot. The boy survived. A man, caught in the same attack, died.
"Nobody knew who did it or why," Badal said. "Everybody was innocent. It happened to good people. The night it happened, I couldn't talk. My tongue was split and hurt so bad. And my gum was like gone."
Badal, who had not seen his mother since he was an infant, was reunited with her in the hospital. "She almost lost somebody she didn't even know," he said. Immigration problems had kept them apart, he said. But after the shooting, she was able to bring him to Tampa.
There, he finished the eighth grade at Buchanan Middle School and entered Gaither High.
"I made good grades and I was all right," he said. "I made a lot of friends." Some of them were girls. Badal wanted to start dating, but he was embarrassed by his wrecked smile.
That's when school social worker Rosemary Brewer stepped in.
"You can't keep him quiet'
A teacher sent Brewer a note about Badal.
"All of his teeth are broken off and I'm concerned about him," the note said.
Brewer went to work. She checked with some of the social service agencies she frequently works with, but none could offer help. Then she just began asking around.
"I talked to everybody I knew," Brewer said. "Guidance counselors, teachers, anybody, asking if they knew a dentist who would do some charity work."
Eventually she encountered Suzan Fine, a member of the New Tampa Junior Women's Club, who knew a doctor that might help.
Dr. Tom Frankfurth, who lives in Hunter's Green and has a dental practice in Temple Terrace, volunteered for the job.
First off, Frankfurth used a cosmetic bonding technique to rebuild Badal's missing front teeth. Now, he's working on a bridge to replace another top tooth and is exploring options to replace the five missing from Badal's lower jaw.
"This is pretty easy stuff, so I didn't mind helping out," said Frankfurth, who is donating his services.
"When he first came in, he hardly said a word. Now, you can't keep him quiet," Frankfurth said. "To see him smile that first time, that made my day. That made it all worthwhile."
Badal smiles a lot now. He earned mostly A's and B's in school this year. At home, he spends most of his free time in the garage working on the jet he's dubbed the DB 686.
DB stands for his initials, 86 is for the year he was born, and the 6 at the beginning of the designation is just for numerical balance. Like the 747, Badal explained.
Once more, he dreams of becoming a pilot. "Everything comes easy to me now," he said.