Q&A: Dentist is hometown bred, with national forensic cred
WESTPORT — Adam Freeman, over the course of his life, has been deeply appreciative of the unique sense of community Westport provides. So it is unsurprising that the Staples High School graduate chose to raise his family and continue his father’s dental practice in the town he cherishes.
However, his dental career has evolved in ways that might surprise many townspeople — for instance, being called on for his forensic expertise in the trial of reputed mobster Whitey Bulger trial or to assist disaster-relief efforts in the wake of Hurricane Katrina that devastated New Orleans and the Gulf Coast in 2005.
Another recent career highlight was Freeman’s election as president of the American Board of Forensic Odontology. The board requires a rigorous route to certification and Freeman is one of only 91 dentists worldwide who holds the title of a board-certified forensic dentist.
After graduating from Columbia University’s College of Dental Medicine, Freeman in 1992 joined Westport Dental Associates, the practice started in 1963 by his father, Stanley, where has been practicing since.
He is the dental section chief of health and human services for the Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team, Region 1, a federal team tasked with identifying victims who perish in mass fatalities, such as Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Ike, for which he took time away from his dental practice to help.
In a recent interview with the Westport News, Freeman talked about his experiences as a dentist in Westport and in disaster relief.
Westport News: What’s special about growing up in Westport?
Adam Freeman: I went to nursery school here, I’m a product of Westport. It’s a great community. My dad started this practice in 1963 so when I grew up in Westport, it was a little bit different from now. You knew everybody on your road all your neighbors. All the stores downtown, there was an owner there wasn’t Banana Republic so there was a real sense of community and it was great, it still is. The great thing about being part of the community and practicing here is that I’ve treated kids who are now, I’m treating their kids and my dad treated their parents and their parent’s parents. These are my peeps, they’re all part of my extended family.
WN: What is a Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team and how did you get involved with helping identify the victims of Hurricane Katrina?
Freeman: The United States government has a team for mass disasters for the identification of individuals that’s called DMORT and that’s broken up into different FEMA regions, I happen to be the chief forensic dentist for Region 1, which is from essentially Connecticut to Maine, and when there is a mass disaster that team can be deployed to any area of the United States for doing identifications of victims.
WN: What was it like being deployed to Gulfport, Miss., in the wake of Katrina?
Freeman: Literally right after the storm hit, we flew from here to Atlanta, rented cars and drove in from Atlanta, taking about a day and a half to get to Mississippi.
WN: What was the scene like when you arrived in Gulfport?
Freeman: Essentially, all we had was they brought in refrigerated trailers, 18-wheelers, that were refrigerated for the bodies. They hadn’t done a whole lot of planning for the teams so when we got down there, they had no living facilities or quarters for us. So we actually lived in the back of 18-wheelers. As bodies filled up, you had to move into another trailer. We had one port-a-potty for a team of about 100 people — there were no shower facilities. So imagine working in a morgue for 12 hours a day with five dead bodies and no ability to take a shower. We had meals ready-to-eat, those pre-packaged meals they eat in the military. It was a very austere environment and hot as hell.
WN: What was a typical day for you in Gulfport?
Freeman: My job was I was the post-mortem chief, which meant that I was in charge of the dental section in the morgue. My job started somewhere in the neighborhood of about 7 o’clock in the morning and most dentists worked on a two-hour rotation because we were in a tent and there was no air-conditioning and it was about 90 degrees in there. The morgue shut down typically around 6 o’clock at night and then I spent 6 to 10 o’clock checking all the stuff that we had done, grabbed something to eat, went to bed and started the next day. No days off. I was down there for about three weeks.