At the age of 71, Naperville resident Fred Bricketto has had his share of dentists. He couldn't be more pleased with Dr. Kaveh N. Adel of Naperville Family Dental Care, who has cared for Bricketto's teeth for the past five years.
"He is technically very, very competent," Bricketto said. "He's very, very personable."
In fact, the two have a relationship that goes beyond the usual doctor-patient visits. Bricketto showed Adel the 30-page memoir he had written about his life for his grandchildren.
That inspired Adel to want to leave a legacy for his own children. He self-published the story of "The Boy and the Red Balloon," inspired by an experience of his 5-year-old son, Kian, in March.
"I wanted him to have something that was related to him," Adel said. "I think it's a wonderful legacy to leave for your family and your child to have a book."
Adel is not stopping with one book. He's at work at other children's books, as well as a graphic novel about his own life, which began in Iran 37 years ago.
Bricketto said that's the sort of person Adel is. "He's the kind of fellow who likes to have three or four things going on at one time," he said.
Bricketto has read Adel's book and shown it to his granddaughter, who is studying for a degree to work with mentally challenged kids. Both were impressed.
"I'm thinking of being his agent. I think he has a future in writing children's books," Bricketto said.
Art and dentistry
Adel's probably not about to give up the dental practice he enjoys to write books. But "The Boy and the Red Balloon," which he both wrote and illustrated, does bring together the other interests in his life - his love of family and the arts.
The son of a playwright mother, Adel took refuge as a kid in the works of writers such as Jules Verne, Jack London and Mark Twain. He also drew pictures to help cope with life-changing experiences that included the Islamic revolution in Iran, war, his parents' divorce and immigration.
Born to a family that included both doctors and artists, Adel decided dentistry best combined his two passions.
"I was always interested in helping people," he said. "Dentistry seemed to be almost the perfect match because you get to use your art in your handiwork and artistry."
Some of the new materials used in dentistry mold like ceramics and clay, he said.
After immigrating to the United States with his mother at the age of 13, Adel graduated from the College of Dentistry at the University of Iowa. He taught as an adjunct faculty member there for three years while working at a large dental practice.
But he knew he wanted a smaller practice of his own. In 2000, he and his wife, Dr. Semira Rezayazdi, also a dentist, moved to Naperville to be closer to his mother, who had moved to Evanston.
Working as a sole practitioner with his office staff of two allows him to take a more personal approach to treating patients, Adel said.
"We really pride ourselves on getting to know patients and their families and following up with them on a personal level," he said.
A first visit takes an hour and includes getting to know the patient and an examination. Adel tries to alleviate patients' anxieties by educating them about procedures. He knows the aversion many people have toward dentists isn't personal, but it can still be hard to take, he said.
"If ... one person says, 'thank you, doctor,' genuinely, it makes my day," he said.
Adel keeps in touch with his patients through YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, as well phone calls and monthly newsletters.
The newsletter contains not only dental care information, but recipes, welcoming words to new patients, quiz questions, office news and notes about patients who have experienced a significant event in their lives. For privacy purposes, patients are referred to only by their first names and first letter of their last names.
The dental practice also may send flowers or cards to patients to acknowledge such milestones as the birth of a grandchild.
A proud father, Adel freely shares photos and news about his own sons, Kian and Milan, almost 2.
"After having two children, it turned my life upside down in a good way," he said.
His son Kian's experience last year with accidentally letting go of a balloon inspired the book.
"For a full day, he was just down quite a bit," Adel recalled.
The family tried to cheer him up with imaginary games. On the trip home from Iowa that night, fueled with cups of coffee to keep him awake, Adel got the idea for the story.
He returned home and wrote "The Boy and the Red Ballon" in one hour. He did the illustrations over three days. In his story, the red balloon sails through ups and downs, disappointment and hope, to get back to the little boy who loves it.
Adel said he's gotten good feedback from people who have read the book.
"The balloon can be looked at from many levels," he said. "From a child's view or an adult's view."
Taso Michalopulos, a speech therapist who edited the book, said he got to know Adel while he was working with Kian, who had some speech problems. Unlike many parents, Adel quickly understood the therapy process and applied it to help his son, Michalopulos said. The two are now working on an interactive product they believe will help all children learn faster at a younger age.
"He's a doer," Michalopulos said. "Of all the friends I've ever had, he's a gentleman to the core."
Adel is selling "The Boy and the Red Balloon" for $11 from his website, the boyandredballoon.com. It also can be purchased for a few dollars less at amazon.com. The book sells for more on his website so he can give a larger portion of the proceeds to two charities, Make-A-Wish Foundation and Autism Speaks, he said.
He also is working to make the book available in digital format and video.
A story to tell
Adel said he wants to tell his own story in the form of a graphic novel. As a young child, he lived through the Islamic revolution that brought Ayatollah Khomeini to power. The revolution was followed by Iran's war with Iraq.
During the air raids, he sat in the basement under a blanket reading books, playing cards or listening to radio by flashlight.
"It makes you grow up a lot faster," he said. "(But) you still find small things to enjoy."
Immigration was harder. The strict conservatism imposed by the Khomeini regime mandated that boys and girls attend separate schools. Then he arrived in France. Paris - with its much more liberal standards of behavior and nudity on TV - was a shock.
"I wanted to go back home. I wanted to go back to my friends and family," he said.
He and his mother had short stays in southern France and Italy before moving to the United States. They settled in Iowa City, where his mother had a sister living at the time.
"Most people were just wonderful. They accepted you with open arms," he said.
Still, the young teen was forced out of his comfort zone. Born into a middle class family, he lived in a basement apartment and worked odd jobs to help pay off the $10,000 his mother had borrowed to get to the U.S.
"I know how to throw a Domino's pizza," he said.
He played and coached soccer. Heeding advice his parents gave him, he looked for ways he could contribute to his new country and worked to improve his English.
"I made it my life's goal to learn the language as well, if not better, than the native speaker," Adel said without a trace of an accent. "Watching a lot of TV helped, and I had wonderful teachers as well."
Adjustment to life in the United States took three years, Adel said.
"By the time I was graduating from high school, I was very comfortable," he said. "We're humans. We're all alike. We have the same emotions."
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