Laboratory professionals working to make the world a better place
The dental laboratory community is filled with people who give back, whether it is providing free dental work for those in need, using the resources of a successful business to make a difference, or simply devoting time and effort for selfless causes. In the following pages, we put the spotlight on four dental laboratory professionals who give back to the community in extraordinary ways, and who hope that their stories inspire their peers to follow suit.
Paying It Forward
Cancer battle, dentist’s generosity motivate Rensburg
By Jason Mazda
Conrad Rensburg attributes his outlook on life to two extraordinary events — one that propelled him to success as a dental laboratory owner, and another that nearly took it all away.
A result of these events was the Absolute Cares Foundation, through which Rensburg, business partner Drew Van Arde, and associates help people in need in various ways, from renovating a home to sponsoring a local athlete.
“The goal of our foundation is having one person look at us and say, ‘Wow, that company truly made a difference,’” says Rensburg, owner of Absolute Dental Services in North Carolina. “We want people to say, ‘They didn’t just give me money and pretend to care. They actually cared about what mattered to me, and that changed my life.’”
Rensburg’s own life changed approximately five years after he immigrated to the US from South Africa. A young technician struggling to make ends meet, he learned that the laboratory he worked for was available for sale. He drove to the home of a dentist he barely knew, Joseph Laton, DDS, and asked for a loan.
“We had only met a couple times, and he wrote me a check right away to purchase the laboratory,” he says. “He took a chance and changed my life. Witnessing that level of kindness from a person was an extremely valuable lesson.”
Rensburg almost lost everything a few years later when he was diagnosed with stage 3 colorectal cancer. Sitting on the hospital bed, he realized that if he did not survive, people would stand at his grave and say, “Well, he was a good technician.” That wasn’t good enough.
“I decided if I have to face my mortality again,” he says, “I’d like at least one person to stand at my grave and say, ‘If it weren’t for that guy, my life would be different.’”
At one point, doctors thought he might have stage 4 liver cancer as well, which would have severely diminished his chances of survival. He thought about how, despite having worked so hard for financial success, at that moment he would rather have a clean liver than $1 million. There was more to life than money.
“If I had the option to go back in time and never have cancer, I would choose to go through it all over again,” Rensburg says. “It was rough, but what I learned from it was priceless.”
That attitude has shaped the Absolute Cares Foundation’s actions. Rensburg says they do not seek out cases; rather, they act on inspiration.
The foundation’s first major project started with Rensburg watching Extreme Home Makeover and drinking beer. “We could do this,” he thought. Shortly thereafter, he identified a woman who had lost both of her parents and her 17-year-old son, all to cancer. She had run out of money and was living with her family in a house with no sewage and no water.
“There was literally a tree growing through the floor in her living room,” Rensburg says.
So they gathered the team and set out to renovate the house, putting in early mornings at the laboratory and late nights working on the house. One ceramist did the tile work, another did the floors in the front of the house, and some of Absolute’s dentist-clients pitched in.
“Within seven days, we completely re-did their house,” Rensburg says. “The day that we stood on the front porch and handed off this house, there was not a dry eye there.”
The next big project was a park in Durham that had become dilapidated and overgrown, and was being used mostly for drug deals.
“We cleaned out all the overgrown plant life, built some benches, bought some grills and exercise equipment, and put in a new basketball court,” Rensburg says. “Approximately 30-40 of our customers contributed. We could literally see the whole community just come out of their houses again.”
Another project came about when Rensburg chatted up a young boxer named Marko Bailey at the gym one morning. Bailey related how he was turning his life around after being involved with gangs and drugs in his teens. The partners decided to sponsor Bailey, paying for small items such as boxing trunks. Bailey now boxes professionally, and he has helped the Absolute Cares Foundation with other projects.
“He believes in our purpose,” Rensburg says.
In the end, building a culture of people helping people is the ultimate goal.
“If every person in the world did good deeds for the person next to them, the world would be a vastly different place,” Rensburg says. “There is a way to influence people and have them influence other people. When you have the means like we do, it is almost your duty to pay it forward.”