Dr. David Nguyen with Sergeant David Tyler Harmon and his daughter
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November 23, 2017 02:00 PM

A Houston dentist who befriended a U.S. Air Force veteran surprised him with thousands of dollars of free dental work when he came in for a routine cleaning.

Dr. David Nguyen met retired Staff Sergeant David Harmon at a local gym in their River Oaks, Houston, community. The two quickly bonded over small talk, and when Nguyen revealed he was a dentist, he invited Harmon in for a cleaning at his URBN Dental office. But when Harmon finally came, Nguyen discovered that he urgently needed more work than he anticipated.

“He needed a lot more than a cleaning,” Nguyen, 33, who’s been a dentist for about five years, tells PEOPLE. “There were a lot of cracked teeth and a lot of crowding.”

Harmon experienced a series of head injuries during his time as a Vietnamese and Spanish Linguist in the U.S. Air Force from 2000 to 2003. These injuries led to bouts of stress, sleeping issues and amnesia where he couldn’t remember who he was married to or that he was a member of the Air Force.

Harmon says he visited the VA many times to get help with his teeth before showing up to Nguyen’s office at the end of October.

“It was a never-ending cycle of not being able to see a dentist through the VA, and when the government keeps you on a thin salary, things get really tight, and it becomes difficult if there’s ever a medical or a dental emergency,” Harmon, 41, says. “I knew that I was having problems because I was in pain. I knew I was probably going to pay a few hundred dollars going up to the office, which I really didn’t have.”

Harmon with his daughter while in the U.S. Air Force
Courtesy David Tyler Harmon

When Nguyen examined Harmon, he saw cracked teeth and infected gums, and calculated that his patient would need a years-worth of reconstruction worth more than $15,000. After they set up a plan and Harmon was set to check out, Nguyen told the front desk to give him a generous 70 percent discount.

Though Harmon was more than appreciative, he insisted on going to the VA since he couldn’t afford the payment even with the discount—but that meant potentially putting off the dental work for months as his paperwork was processed. When Nguyen overheard Harmon’s financial concerns, he came out and told the front desk, “Don’t charge him anything.”

“He had a pretty bad infection in his mouth, and to see something like that in someone who can’t afford it, especially someone who is a veteran, there’s no way I could sleep at night if I just let him out the door,” Nguyen says. “These are veterans who risk their lives to fight for our country, the least I could do is just help them out. I believe in Karma, if you do good, you’ll get good.”

At that moment, Harmon felt the nightmare that had been haunting him for years may finally have an end in sight.

Harmon with his wife, and his daughter, Kelly
Courtesy David Tyler Harmon

“My biggest nightmare I’ve had that’s always kept me awake at night is wondering what’s going to happen with my teeth,” Harmon says. “It’s hard to accept such an amazing gift, but I view David as a literal family savior. There’s no way in this world I would ever be able to pay for any of this on the government’s salary. I was finally able to get a good night’s sleep not having to worry about it.”

Nguyen’s brother, who is a doctor who specializes in pain, has even offered to treat the Air Force vet’s grinding habit, so it won’t undo the work they do. Nguyen and Harmon are now working in phases to chip away at the massive amounts of dental reconstruction ahead of them, and Harmon cannot thank his friend enough.

Dr. David Nguyen

“I can’t even express the level of gratitude that I have towards David. He’s just an absolute godsend,” he says.

Nguyen says it breaks his heart to see veterans praised in battle only to see them ignored when they return home. To do his part to help, he has now started a program at URBN Dental where veterans can sign up to get free dental work at his office.

“I’ve been working the cases in through the schedule I have, trying to help as many people as I can,” Nguyen says. “With everything going on in the world, every little thing that I can do would help these heroes out.”

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