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Friday, October 20, 2017, 10:28 p.m.

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Dr. Daron Praetzel

Hot Springs oral surgeon leads nonprofit, involved in community

By Carol Rolf

This article was published October 8, 2017 at 12:00 a.m.

Dr. Daron Praetzel, an oral and maxillofacial surgeon in Hot Springs, is the founder of the Faces Foundation. The foundation provides free surgery to qualified people with facial deformities. Proceeds from this year’s Oktoberfest, which is set for Friday and Saturday in Hill Wheatley Park, will benefit the nonprofit organization.

It wasn’t long after Dr. Daron Praetzel moved to Hot Springs that he saw a need in the community and reacted to it.

He readily admits that his time spent in Balad, Iraq, as the only oral and maxillofacial surgeon in the region was challenging and rewarding, but he believes there is a need for his services in the Hot Springs community as well.

“There are people I see every day who have some sort of facial deformity that we could help,” said Praetzel, 46.

The “we” he speaks of is the Faces Foundation, a nonprofit organization he founded officially in 2014 to provide facial surgery and reconstruction for children and young adults with facial deformities who would otherwise not have the resources to have them corrected. The organization provides these services free of charge for low-income families’ children, youth, active military and veterans who have birth defects, facial scarring, facial abnormalities and those who have sustained war injuries. In return for the surgery and services, patients who qualify will be able to earn their surgery by “paying-it-forward,” donating their time to partnering with nonprofit organizations in the community.

“I saw the need here after we moved to Arkansas,” said Praetzel, who was born and raised in Pennsylvania. “I saw a need of kids and young adults who have facial deformities. This could be any growth deformity. … It could be ears, jaw, mouth, nose. This kind of reconstruction is usually cosmetic and is not covered by insurance.

“But it affects the whole person,” he said. “It affects their self-esteem. They are usually picked on, … bullied in school. I saw the need here and wanted to try to help them.”

The Faces Foundation’s motto is twofold: Changing Lives One Face at a Time by Helping Others Help the Community.”

The Faces Foundation Board of Directors, which consists of three physicians, including Praetzel — who is certified by the American Board of Facial Cosmetic Surgery and the American Board of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery — and four business people, meet and review the applicants for surgery. Ernie Hinz is the president and executive director of the foundation.

“We all have a vote,” Praetzel said.

“We do some preliminary screening,” Hinz added.

Prospective patients find information about the Faces Foundation online at www.fixfaces.org, from direct referrals from other physicians or even from patients who have been helped by the foundation.

“Ernie and I make presentations at civic clubs, churches, wherever we can,” Praetzel said.

“We want to talk about the foundation. We want to get the word out. … We want to raise awareness about the Faces Foundation,” he said.

“We are looking for patients. … We are looking for those people who are looking for hope,” Praetzel said, adding that the foundation also welcomes sponsors and donations.

Praetzel said he waives his fees for the surgeries, as does Dr. Aaron Baldwin, who is Praetzel’s partner and co-owner of Arkansas Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons PA.

“We both waive our fees, but the surgeries are still expensive,” Praetzel said. “They can cost upward of $50,000.

“We did four surgeries this summer with the help of funding from sponsors and donors. We have about eight applications in process now, applications that have either been approved, and [the patients] are awaiting surgery, or are awaiting approval.”

Hinz said this kind of surgery can change the whole demeanor of a person.

“One young lady we helped had a severe underbite. It took her 30 minutes to eat a sandwich. She was bullied in school. After the surgery, no one recognized her; she looked like a new person.” Hinz said.

“She set new goals for herself. One of those goals was to have a date. No one had ever asked her out. She now has dates. She told us, ‘It was nice to have someone think I was pretty,’” Hinz said.

“We often say the Faces Foundation is about ‘Changing Lives One Face at a Time,’” Hinz said. “What we have all discovered is that while that is true, others around them, their family, their friends, are also impacted.

“This includes us at the foundation: the nurses, the doctors, the board members — we all are changed for the better. Seeing the results, seeing the self-esteem changes make us feel good about ourselves and what we do. All of our lives are changed one face at a time.”

In order to pay for his or her surgery, the patient is asked to donate time, prior to the surgery, to partnering with nonprofit organizations.

“There is a dollar value in time,” Pretzel said. “Donating time is a way to become involved in the community. The patients can get their family, friends, school, church, whoever, involved. It’s a win-win situation for everyone.”

The foundation partners with several local nonprofit organizations in this effort — Jackson House, First Step, Habitat for Humanity of Garland County, The Salvation Army and Abilities Unlimited of Hot Springs.

Praetzel graduated from Gannon University in Erie, Pennsylvania, with a degree in chemistry. He received his Doctor of Dental Medicine degree from the University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine and joined the Air Force after graduation. He completed a residency in oral and maxillofacial surgery at Wilford Hall Medical Center at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas.

Praetzel served 13 years of active duty in the Air Force, including his time in Iraq. He is now a colonel in the Air Force IMA (Individual Mobilization Augmentee) Reserve at the Little Rock Air Force Base.

Praetzel and his wife, Karen, have three children — Jacob, 16, Austin, 13, and Sheyla, 11, who all attend school in the Lake Hamilton School District.

When he is not working, Praetzel enjoys barbershop singing; he is the musical director of Acapella Rising, central Arkansas’ chapter of the nonprofit Barbershop Harmony Society. He also enjoys cross-fit training, hunting, fishing and working on his small farm, where he raises cows and honeybees.

Praetzel said he cannot see himself retiring anytime soon.

“I often say, ‘If I’m not doing something, I will be doing something,’” he said, smiling. “I hope to grow the Faces Foundation. We have already talked to interested groups of doctors in Ohio and San Antonio who are ready to come on board. We want to expand into other states. We are already out of Hot Springs, with patients in Fort Smith and Jonesboro, for example. Next, we want to expand outside Arkansas.”

In addition to his private dental practice and the Faces Foundation, Praetzel is the owner of the Arkansas Center for Surgical Excellence, which serves as the outpatient surgery center for the Faces Foundation and is also used as an outpatient surgery center by other surgeons.

Praetzel is also a partner in Rustic Development LLC, which is working to beautify and revitalize downtown Hot Springs. He is developing a restaurant, Vault, in an old bank building downtown and hopes to open it in November. Praetzel also leads the Hot Springs Study Club, which offers continuing education for local dentists.

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