by W. Ronald Redmond, DDS, MS, FACD

How an orthodontist saved the life of a former patient

One of Redmond Orthodontics’ office locations is 200 yards from the beach in San Clemente, Calif. As such, it isn’t unusual for patients to come into our office straight from the beach, wearing wet bathing suits, covered in sand, or without shoes.

One summer afternoon, Charlie, a 17-year-old patient who had finished active treatment, arrived for his retention visit. Of course, Charlie was wearing only his bathing suit and beach thongs. As I arrived at the chair, Charlie and my dental assistant, Laurie, were talking, and she said, “Charlie, tell Dr Redmond what happened to you.”

Charlie turned to look at me, and I realized that his right pupil was four to six times larger than his left pupil. Unfortunately, the beach area has a lot of drugs floating around, so my immediate thought was a bad drug reaction.

However, Charlie told me that, about 40 minutes prior, he had been surfing and hit the bottom with his head so hard that it almost knocked him out, so I knew this was definitely not a drug reaction. In fact, as Charlie went on with his story, I noticed fluid coming out of his right ear, something I originally thought was saltwater, but now realized was spinal fluid.

I asked Charlie how he got to the office; “I drove” was his reply. I didn’t want to alarm him with my diagnosis of a fractured temporal bone, but I did explain to him that he couldn’t drive and that he needed to go to the hospital.

To help him understand the situation, I handed him a mirror to let him see his own pupils. Startled by the difference in his pupils, Charlie began to panic. I asked him which of his parents would be easiest to call. Charlie gave me his mom’s work number, and I called and asked her to come to the office. I must say, she was openly annoyed that I would bother her during her busy work day, but she agreed to come. I didn’t disclose to her on the telephone my suspicions about Charlie’s condition—I didn’t want her to drive too fast.

When she arrived, visibly upset at the inconvenience, I showed her Charlie’s pupils. Her first question was, “What did you do to Charlie?” I quickly explained his accident. I then told her I thought his condition was serious and that she needed to take him to the hospital emergency room immediately. They left.

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A few hours later, I had a call from Charlie’s mom. She was crying and very apologetic. She told me that the neurosurgeon said I saved his life, and that he had asked repeatedly, “Tell me again who referred Charlie to the hospital?” It was as if he couldn’t believe an orthodontist could make this diagnosis. Charlie’s mom felt terrible about her attitude in my office and kept telling me how sorry she was.

Six weeks later, during the afternoon rush, Charlie walked into my office. He walked straight up to me and gave me an enormous hug. With tears in his eyes, Charlie thanked me for saving his life.

As I reflect on the events leading up to Charlie’s hugging me, tears begin to fill my eyes, and I thank God for the professional education that prepared me for that day.

W. Ronald Redmond, DDS, MS, FACD, maintains four practice locations in California (San Clemente, Laguna Niguel, Irvine, and Trabuco Canyon) and two in Washington (Seattle and West Seattle) with his two sons. He can be reached at