CARBONDALE – After 18 years and what would be $3.5 million in medical bills, Mark Beams of Carbondale is grinning.

Beams, 41, almost died in a car accident in Maine nearly 18 years ago. He was 23 at the time.

Beams’ last piece of medical treatment has been getting fillings, crowns and new retainer for his severely damaged teeth.

And to boot, his dentist, Dan Massie of Carbondale, has done most of the work for free.

“I never ever thought of getting mouth work done for free,” Beams said.

He started coming to Massie more than three years ago and said he did what he could to pay the dentist for his services. He said he’d pay $20 here or $30 there, but Massie just told him not to worry about it.

Massie has been in practice for 3 1/2 years and he said he remembers when Beams came to him. Massie said he doesn’t normally do work for free, but in this case, he was more worried about his patient’s health.

“I could tell he wanted to fix his teeth, but he couldn’t afford it. I could tell he cared,” Massie said.

Beams delayed getting his teeth fixed because he didn’t have the money and Massie said he was concerned the teeth weren’t getting any better.

“I finally said, ‘I think I can afford to help him out with that stuff,'” he said.

Beams said his teeth have been falling out one by one for years and he had thought about getting the work done during that time.

“I’ve been thinking about it for 15 years,” Beams said.

Over the past three years, he said he’s visited Massie’s office probably 25 to 30 times.

“I just think it was superb what he did,” Beams said.

In Massie’s office, Beams, who works as a carpenter for the Center for Comprehensive Services, joked about bargaining with the car dealer while trying to buy a new truck, filling his dentist in on all the colorful details of negotiating.

Massie laughed.

“He’s entertaining,” Massie said.

“I think I was just born with the entertainment,” Beams said.

It has been a long road to recovery for Beams.

In August 1986, he was a passenger in a car accident in Phillips, Maine. He said his friend, who was driving, died in the accident. Beams said he was trapped inside the crushed vehicle for 30 minutes until emergency crews arrived. Beams said the left frontal lobe of his brain was crushed and the right side severely bruised. His left leg was severed and had to be reattached.

“I had to learn how to walk; I couldn’t even eat,” he said.

Slowly but surely, he said, he’s been through therapy to learn to walk again. He’s learned to use his left hand more, because he lost most mobility in his right arm.

Beams said shortly before his accident, he had purchased a good health insurance policy.

“It’s amazing that I’m even here,” he said.

There were times he was depressed, he said, knowing that he was at a good point in his life when the accident happened. But now things are looking better and feeling better, too.

“I feel more re-built,” he said.

Thanks to The Southern Illinoisan for reporting this heartwarming story.