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A heart of gratitude: Estate commitment recognizes life-changing kindness of students and faculty

Mike Pearson
As a new student at the School of Dentistry in 1965, Mike Pearson, DDS ’69, knew hardly anyone. But when his son needed blood-intensive heart surgery, word got around—and faculty and students from across the school lined up to donate blood.

He never asked, but somehow word got around. Mike Pearson, DDS ’69, had only been a student at UTHealth Houston School of Dentistry for a few weeks—hardly long enough for anyone to know him, but scores of students and faculty lined up to save his two-year-old son’s life.

Mike’s son required urgent heart surgery, a procedure that in 1965 required large amounts of blood for the heart-lung machine that would keep the child alive during the operation. Since they shared the relatively rare B-positive blood type, Mike could either pay a prohibitive sum of money to buy 20 pints of B-positive blood or somehow collect 100 pints of other types. 

“People turned out like crazy,” he says. “They gave 100 pints, and my son had a successful surgery. I knew then I’d found my family.”

Mike originally set out to attend medical school, prompted by his physician father-in-law’s offer of an educational loan and a place in the family practice after graduation. Mike gained admission and started to look for housing when a chance encounter at a dinner party changed the course of his life.

He found himself seated next to John Victor Olson, DDS, who was the Dean of the School of Dentistry at that time. Discovering Mike’s plans for medical school, Olson asked: had he ever considered becoming a dentist? Mike’s father-in-law had recently died in a plane crash, clouding the future Mike had anticipated as part of a family practice. Searching for direction, he called a surgeon he knew to ask for advice.

“He recommended going to dental school,” Mike recalls. “He said, ‘I do this beautiful surgery, and everybody raves about how good I am, but when I see the patient again, all I see is a scar. But when you’re a dentist, you can look in their mouth years later and have the satisfaction of seeing the work you’ve done.’”

Mike canceled his plans for medical school and enrolled at the School of Dentistry. With an undergraduate background in engineering, he enjoyed the problem-solving and planning involved and appreciated learning in an environment with motivated, highly intelligent students.

“The professors would see patients in the hospitals on Saturdays, and they would let me assist them for extra credit,” he says. “I spent every weekend for a long time doing that. It was like a second education.”

After graduating, Mike served as a dentist in the United States Navy at Camp Pendleton, treating Marine Corps recruits preparing to ship to Vietnam. Although offered a promotion and a residency to extend his service, he opted to resign from the military and enter private practice.

Over several decades, his perseverance built a solid practice with patients he knew well and saw frequently. After one of his former dental school classmates made an estate commitment to the School of Dentistry, Mike decided to follow suit. He remembered his struggles as a dental student without much income or any family resources—like when he had to borrow money from friends to replace his broken glasses.

In 2014, he made an estate commitment to create an endowment at the School of Dentistry. The fund will distribute resources at the dean’s discretion to help students—ensuring others will be able to follow Mike’s path for generations to come.

“Dentistry had its share of challenges, but it was just as satisfying as I imagined,” he says. “I want to help make sure students have the opportunity to experience those same rewards.”

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