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The dentist who arrived by boat

August 9, 2011
By KATHY JONES ( , Pine Island Eagle

Dr. Leticia Acosta and her husband, Dr. Horacio Pla, were both successful dentists in Cuba. They had a 3-1/2-year-old son named Horacio, after his father. In Cuba, they lived the good life. But they believed their lives could be better.

"My father was a dentist and my mother an industrial engineer. My husband and I were both dentists. But, in Cuba, unfortunately, you can be a successful professional but your lifestyle and your dreams can be frustrated," Dr. Acosta explains. "This is because you do not have personal freedoms."

Because Dr. Acosta and her husband were both medical professionals, the only way they would be allowed to leave Cuba was if they won a lottery to immigrate, or leave secretly, and dangerously, by boat. They chose the latter.

"Family and friends helped us get a boat and my husband, my son and I left one night in 2002 with very few possessions. We were so hopeful but the Coast Guard saw us when we were about 25 miles from the Keys," she recalls.

The family was taken aboard a Coast Guard ship and detained for five days before being transferred to another ship and taken back to Cuba. Cuban authorities interrogated them, confiscated all the personal supplies given them by the Coast Guard and tried to get them to agree to be in a video denouncing their actions. Ultimately, their medical professions kept them from being more harshly dealt with and they were allowed to return home. But their dream was still alive.

"Twenty days later, we tried again. This time we made it to Key Largo, stepped onto the beach and began the process to be allowed to stay in America," Dr. Acosta said. "Because of special arrangements between Cuba and the United States, if you step onto U.S. soil, you are allowed to stay if you meet certain requirements."

The family was taken to the Krome INS detention and processing center in Miami. (The center, ironically, is located on the site of a NIKE missile launcher base built in the 1960s during the Cuban missile crisis.) They underwent medical testing, inoculations and many interviews with authorities during the time they were there. They were accepted as immigrants and made their way to Miami and its supportive Cuban community.

Within a few months, Dr. Acosta and her husband decided to move to Cape Coral because they believed there might be better opportunities for them. Their family grew to four with the birth of their daughter, Nancy.

Dr. Pla had been a dental lab technician in Cuba before becoming a dentist and returned to that profession. He now owns his own dental lab. Dr. Acosta became certified as a dental hygienist and went to work at Riverdale Dentistry Associates in St. James City. Both became citizens in 2008.

"My experience working at Riverdale, and for Dr. Markus Sherry, made me want to be a dentist again,' Dr. Acosta explained. 'I went to the University of Florida in Gainesville for four years and got my DMD this year. Happily, Dr. Sherry hired me to be a new dentist at the practice."

Happily, also, the dentist who arrived by boat with little now enjoys a very full life enjoying the freedoms she dreamed of having if she came to America.



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