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Operation Transformation: New Manchester-based charity empowering domestic abuse victims

New Hampshire Union Leader |
November 28. 2015 8:01PM

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Lesa Aubrey, left, of Manchester shows off her new smile thanks to Leah Rousseau, right, Dr. William Dobbins, DMD, and Patty Flanagan, who all are part of Dobbins’ Manchester oral surgery practice, which gave birth to the Operation Transformation charity. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

MANCHESTER — Lesa Aubrey has a lot to be thankful for this holiday season, including a new smile, a new sense of confidence and a new outlook on life after years of suffering silently at the hands of an abusive husband.

The 47-year-old Manchester woman is the first beneficiary of Operation Transformation, a Manchester-based volunteer initiative aimed at domestic violence victims that in its first year changed at least one life and raised $50,000 for abuse prevention.

Through this new charity, a group of dedicated medical practitioners and a host of other volunteers joined forces to restore the smile of a 20-year victim of abuse, encouraging others to emerge from the shadows and get the help they need.

The team of surgeons, psychologists, dermatologists and other professionals who worked with Lesa over the past nine months did much more than transform a once shy and self-effacing woman into a source of inspiration for women seeking their own path toward healing.

They helped create a spokesperson for the cause, celebrated as a “Woman of Strength” at the first Operation Transformation Masquerade Gala on Nov. 13 at the Manchester Country Club. All proceeds from the $100-a-ticket formal affair were donated to the Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, resulting in the largest single contribution in the coalition’s history.

The highlight of the Nov. 13 event was the “great reveal” — the long-anticipated unveiling of a woman who up to that point had been known only as “L.”

Lesa’s courage to step into the spotlight that night cuts to the heart of the Operation Transformation mission, according to Dr. William Dobbin, whose Manchester practice in oral surgery gave birth to the program.

“Lesa’s been through hell and high water,” he said, glancing affectionately in her direction to compliment her on her new smile. “No amount of accolades can tell you how much she’s been through, and how strong of a person she is. To undergo something like this, and have the courage to put her story out there. Kudos to her.”

While she is “the most important character in the story,” according to Dobbin, many others had parts to play. Operation Transformation was a natural evolution for the well-known oral surgeon, who since the 1990s has made biannual trips to Central or South America to correct cleft lips and palates for the poor.

“I didn’t go into this to make money, but to give back to mankind,” Dobbin said of his medical career, dating back to 1985. “That’s where you get the most satisfaction, when someone is thankful.”

His dental implant coordinator and administrator, Patty Flanagan, with help from marketing coordinator Leah Rousseau, conceived of Operation Transformation as a way to bring the doctor’s charitable work to the homefront, based loosely on a similar program Flanagan had experienced while working in Alabama.

After Lesa was recruited through an extensive vetting process, they turned their attention toward building the transformation team, which eventually included a dentist, an eye doctor, a plastic surgeon and a dermatologist. Together, they replaced all of Lesa’s top front teeth with implants and crowns, corrected fractures in her nasal passages, fixed bruised skin and repaired damaged eye sockets.

Inside healing as well

A psychologist and personal trainer joined the team, helping supplement the physical restoration with psychological revival.

When the night of the gala arrived, florists, caterers, printers and wine distributors all donated goods or services. Three professional photographers volunteered their time to document Lesa’s progress, creating a slide-show that set the stage for her to emerge in a striking evening gown to wild applause.

In her voice-over for the video, she paid tribute to the loving family that surrounded her, moving the audience to tears. “Words can’t describe how truly lucky I am to have a loving and supportive family,” she said. “With their help and support, I was able to find doors that were open to me here in Manchester, to help me rebuild my life, to figure how to fix what had been broken inside of me. Seeing their determination, I was able to find mine.”

Getting all those people to help really wasn’t a challenge, said Flanagan. Manchester is a very giving community, and Dr. Dobbin is well-known and well-respected. So many dentists wanted to participate that their names had to go into a lottery before a “winner” was selected.

Everyone involved seems to agree with Dobbin, that giving is better than receiving. “They had the blessing of learning what Lesa’s all about, and getting to know her as the great lady that she is,” said Flanagan.

Now changed by the transformative power of healing, Lesa is ready to share her experience with the next “mystery woman” who is no doubt waiting in the wings. “I want other women to know, they don’t have to be in a situation like that for 20 years,” she says, “like I was.”