Hate Crime Recovery
Victim of violent downtown anti-gay attack gets a reason to smile
In September 2012, Austin was rocked by a violent attack that occurred in the heart of downtown during Gay Pride Week. After a friend started getting harassed while waiting in line at a food truck, Andrew Oppleman stepped in to help. Tensions escalated and Oppleman was punched in the face, resulting in the loss of sixth teeth and damaging several more.
The attack was particularly shocking because, despite happening in the midst of Gay Pride festivities, Oppleman believes he was targeted because he is gay. Due to the lack of audio from surveillance footage of the attack, the alleged assailant wasn’t charged with a hate crime. Instead, the alleged attacker, Lambert Borgardt, was indicted for second degree felony assault and is currently out on bond.
"I had the ability to help, and not everyone does," says Dr. Gary L. Cash
Though members of Austin’s LGBT community rallied around Oppleman in the days that followed, he still faced the daunting task of physically recovering. For Oppleman, that task would be made a little easier with the help of a stranger.
It was while watching the local news that Dr. Gary Cash, of Gary L. Cash, DDS, first learned of the attack. “Like for many people, it was a random act of violence that was disturbing to me,” Dr. Cash tells CultureMap. “I had the ability to help, and not everyone does. So I contacted the news station and gave them my office phone number to give to him. I didn’t know if he needed or wanted my help. But when I heard back from Andrew, he was very gracious.”
Dr. Cash began working with Oppleman, providing him with reconstructive oral surgery to repair his broken smile. While the journey hasn’t been easy for Oppleman, Dr. Cash’s kindness has helped him recover both physically and mentally. “It was unbelievable,” Oppleman says. “You hear so much about negative human interests instead of the positive. And here I got to work with Dr. Cash and make a new friendship with him.”
While undergoing the reconstruction, Oppleman moved to North Carolina due to his job, but he flies in to visit so Dr. Cash can continue his work. As someone who makes his living in sales, Oppleman knows the pain will be worth it in the end. “In the end, this process has helped restore confidence in myself and others,” he says.
After months of fitting Oppleman for implants, adding crowns, restoring missing teeth and providing a smile makeover to make everything look more natural, Dr. Cash is starting to see the “light at the end of the tunnel.”
“A majority of what we call the 'uppers' are finished,” says Dr. Cash, adding that the final procedure on the bottom teeth and transitioning from temporary restorations to final crowns and implants should be completed over the next month. Without all of the dental work provided gratis by Dr. Cash, it’s estimated that Oppleman’s procedures would have cost him over $100,000.
With the end in sight, Oppleman is ready to move on with his life, and Dr. Cash is hoping that others will be inspired to lend a hand to those who need it.
“I wanted to right a wrong,” says Dr. Cash, “When my wife and I first moved to Texas everyone [was] warm and welcoming, and I wanted to help restore that.”