BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Right now, you can count on one hand how many non-military programs there are across the nation like it. But starting next year, ECMC will be offering a fellowship in a specialty that is badly needed: maxillofacial prosthetics.

Veteran Rolf Torno is one of many who benefit from that field of medicine. He uses an artificial device – called an obturator – to complete his upper mouth.

“I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t have it,” Torno said. “It would be hard to live without it.”

He wouldn’t be able to eat, drink, or even speak without the obturator. Torno needs it because of an injury sustained in Vietnam on February 14, 1969.

“I was out for five or six days,” he recalls. “I had to be told what happened afterwards.”

Doctors with ECMC’s Division of Oral Oncology and Maxillofacial Prosthetics work on devices like Torno’s obturator.

“We see patients that have had any form of congenital malformation, trauma, cancer of the jaw, or dental deformity that requires a replacement of bone, tissue, or teeth,” says Dr. Amanda Colebeck, a maxillofacial prosthodontist at ECMC. “We also see patients that have had a deformity or loss of a facial structure, including ears, eyes, noses, or lips.”

Now, ECMC says Dr. Colebeck and the rest of the department has received accreditation from the Commission on Dental Accreditation to offer an advanced program in maxillofacial prosthetics. The hospital says there are only five domestic CODA-accredited maxillofacial prosthetics certificate training programs in the country. There are also two military programs.

Over the past few decades, doctors say multiple programs like this have shut down.

“It’s a really big deal because there are vast areas across the country that don’t have providers doing what we do,” said Colebeck. “Those patients have to travel for hours to see a provider.”

Colebeck says it requires an integration of a lot of different departments at ECMC to make a program like this work. The fellowship will start on July 1, 2023.

Chris Horvatits is an award-winning reporter and anchor who started working at WIVB in 2017. A Lancaster native, he came to Buffalo after working at stations in Rochester and Watertown. See more of his work here and follow him on Twitter.