#NoahNation Foundation Helps Kids Fight Cancer With Medically Adapted Pajamas

By Kate Reagan, Lincoln Memorial University

Martha DiMaria-Sileno, a Doctor of Education (EdD) candidate at Sullivan Foundation partner school Lincoln Memorial University (LMU), is a dedicated teacher, student, mother, daughter, wife, friend, prayer warrior and a member of the “worst club ever.”

DiMaria-Sileno, a teacher at Holston Middle School in Knoxville, Tenn., and her family became members of the “worst club ever” when her youngest son, Noah Sileno, was diagnosed with B-Cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia on July 25, 2018. He was just three-and-a-half years old at the time. In the months and years to come, the Silenos, along with an army of physicians, nurses and physical and occupational therapists, would wage an exhausting battle against leukemia.

With aggressive treatment, Noah has gone into remission, although the type of leukemia that ravaged his body has a high risk of relapse. In the meantime, his parents have formed an army of their own: The #NoahNation Foundation, a nonprofit that provides medically adapted pajamas for children undergoing chemo treatment.

This photo shows Martha DiMaria-Sileno and her son Noah, the founders of the #Noah Nation Foundation

Noah Silino, pictured here with his mother, Martha DiMaria-Sileno, endured two harrowing years of treatment for leukemia, inspiring the creation of the #NoahNation Foundation.

After spending a total of 73 nights at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital (ETCH) with her son, DiMaria-Sileno came to a realization. “Kids undergoing chemo need special pajamas that have easy access to their ports, tubes and drains,” she said. “We saw kids fighting cancer in dress shirts because the button-down tops allowed for this easy access. Children should not have to fight cancer in dress shirts or no shirts at all.”

The Silenos established The #NoahNation Foundation to create warrior and warrior-princess medically adapted pajamas. With money raised through t-shirt sales and fundraisers, DiMaria-Sileno purchased pajamas and recruited sewers to adapt them using Velcro, snaps and plastic zippers so that children can fight cancer in comfort.

“These pajamas are metal-free so that the children can have tests done while in the pajamas,” DiMaria-Sileno said. “Our goal is to bring dignity and comfort to all cancer kids undergoing treatment.”

The Silenos have also become childhood cancer activists. They have traveled to Washington, D.C. to meet with legislators and lobby for more funding for childhood cancer research. The foundation, meanwhile, has distributed hundreds of pajamas to sick children and has plans to manufacture custom pajamas in the future.

this photo shows Noah Sileno of the #NoahNation Foundation raising funds for Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation.

The #NoahNation Foundation raised funds for Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation, a nonprofit that supports childhood cancer research.

Additionally, Noah and his family have raised thousands of dollars for Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation, a charity that supports childhood cancer research. Noah has served as an ambassador for ETCH and was the honored hero for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and the family has shared their story, in hopes of raising awareness, through feature stories on the local news.

Noah’s journey to remission was a long and harrowing one in which the little boy had to overcome multiple health complications. He lost 15% of his body weight on steroids and needed a feeding tube for three-and-a-half months. He also developed severe neuropathy, which left him bedridden, only able to move his eyes. At one point, he was the sickest child on the oncology floor at ETCH, and one of the hematologists called him the “mystery ALL child.” If something could go wrong, it would go wrong for Noah.

But Noah soldiered bravely through the pain and the setbacks. The Sileno family marked Noah’s second “cancer-versary” early this summer, and Noah is nearing the end of a brutal two-and-a-half year chemo regimen. At five-and-a-half, he started kindergarten in August, a milestone that was all the sweeter and more stressful due to his leukemia and the ongoing global pandemic. And while he is back to doing things kids his age should be doing—swimming, running, jumping and playing baseball—he must wear a leg brace and often experiences pain and side effects of the chemo.

this photo shows two little boys with medically adapted pajamas from the #NoahNation Foundation

The #NoahNation Foundation provides medically adapted pajamas to children fighting leukemia and other cancers.

DiMaria-Sileno is back in her own classroom as well, teaching sixth-grade math. She completed her Educational Specialist degree at LMU in 2018 but had to put her plan to earn an educational doctorate on hold for a year. Once things with Noah stabilized, she picked up where she left off and is very near submitting her dissertation proposal, one of the final steps to completing her terminal degree.

She’s determined to complete and defend her dissertation by next summer. And she’s happy to be researching education rather than cancer. “My dissertation is my therapy,” she said. “It is the only time I don’t think about cancer.”

This article has been edited and condensed from the original story on the Lincoln Memorial University website. Read the full version here to learn more about Noah and his family’s harrowing experiences and challenges with leukemia. Click here to donate to the #NoahNation Foundation.

Washington Adventist University Student Helped Community Battle COVID-19

By Dachele Cuke, Washington Adventist University

Ava Abtahi, a second-year Honors College student at Sullivan Foundation partner school Washington Adventist University, is planning a career in medicine. So when Maryland Governor Larry Hogan called for volunteers to help with COVID-19 testing this spring, she quickly rose to the challenge.

In a few days, Abtahi, a pre-med major, went to work on getting the certifications and training she needed to be a first responder. “It’s in my blood,” she said. “I basically got injected with that phrase from Honors College that ‘we’re here to better serve others.’ And I can’t [not help].”

Related: Lincoln Memorial University professor makes 300-plus COVID-19 masks for DAR

Abtahi moved to the United States almost nine years ago from Iran. Since she was a child, her parents wanted to move to a place where their daughter would be free to live out her dreams. When it was time for Ava to choose a college, she was drawn to WAU. “I could have gone to any school … but I just felt this school would be the school that I would excel in,” she said. “And I’m glad that I’ve chosen WAU because I’m sure if I were at other schools, I would not be able to do the things that I’m doing here.”

She wasted little time getting started on her path of service to others. On her first day helping administer COVID-19 tests, she and her fellow volunteers tested around 1,000 people. “I’m just happy to see other people in our area that were willing to risk their lives to go against something as big as COVID-19 and help the community,” she said.

Ava Abtahi removes her COVID-19 mask to show the bruises it left on her face.

Abtahi and the other volunteers worked shifts as long as 12-14 hours. “I remember every time I came out, I would have this bruise everyone was getting,” she said. “We had to wear [a three-layered mask] for testing, so it left a mark. Even my ears were hurting.”

On some days, she worked handling calls and scheduling tests for the Montgomery County (Maryland) Health Department, with between 15,000 and 20,000 calls pouring in each day. There was no room for mess-ups while inputting names and numbers—if one letter or number was off, that individual could not get tested.

Related: University of Alabama senior creates greeting cards to cheer up nursing home residents

“Sometimes I felt really tired, but I couldn’t say no,” she said. “It’s hard sometimes, but it felt good at the end.”

Abtahi believes her passion for serving others kept her going. “I live by helping people,” she said. “If I don’t help people, I feel like I don’t exist.”

She said WAU’s Honors College has been a significant influence on her. “I’m just glad the culture of Honors College is [about] serving people.”

Throughout her period of volunteering during the COVID-19 crisis, Abtahi also earned 10 hours of credit in summer courses and served as a teacher’s assistant.

Abtahi poses with one of her professors at WAU.

Abtahi hopes to be a cardiovascular or cardiothoracic surgeon. “Many people die because of heart failure and not having heart transplants,” she said. “When I was in high school, I started this little side research [project] of 3D-printing hearts. I just had the idea in my mind. When I got to WAU, I brought it up with [a professor], and he said, ‘We can work on this!’”

Her advice to other aspiring doctors and nurses: “Keep a positive attitude and keep the goal in mind always. Your goal is to do your best in helping someone.”

This article has been edited and condensed from the original two-part post appearing here and here on Washington Adventist University’s website. 

Auburn Alumni Association Launches Buy-One, Give-One COVID-19 Mask Initiative

The Auburn Alumni Association has launched a COVID-19 mask initiative through which Auburn University alumni and friends can purchase exclusive, limited-edition Auburn face masks for personal use while also donating a mask to an underserved area of Alabama.

In partnership with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, the Auburn Alumni Association will donate a COVID-19 mask to the area of greatest need in Alabama for every mask that is sold through its mask initiative.

Related: Auburn’s University Outreach delivers leadership training to find common ground in difficult times

Each design is a limited edition. Once masks bearing a particular design is sold out, no more will be produced, and a new design will then be created, according to a press release from Auburn, a Sullivan Foundation partner school.

The Auburn Alumni Association partnered with the University of Minnesota Alumni Association to host the Auburn face mask products on their alumni marketplace, Minnesota Alumni Market.

“We are so excited about the impact this exciting initiative will make on Alabamians and look forward to seeing these beautiful designs throughout our state,” said Gretchen VanValkenburg, vice president for alumni affairs and executive director of the Auburn Alumni Association. “I am especially grateful to my fellow CAAE member and alumni colleague, Lisa Lewis [president and CEO of the University of Minnesota Alumni Association], for her assistance and support.”

this photo shows a close-up of the limited-edition Auburn University COVID-19 mask

Donated masks will be distributed to areas in Alabama with the most need as determined by Alabama Extension.

“It’s times like these that we find the greatest comfort in knowing that alumni communities from two different conferences can unite for a larger cause,” said Jessica King, director of communications and marketing for the Auburn Alumni Association.

Related: Lincoln Memorial University professor creates 300-plus COVID-19 masks for DAR project

Extension Director Gary Lemme agreed. “Alabama Extension has offices in each county and is Auburn University’s connection to every community in Alabama,” he said.  “Extension is proud to partner with the Auburn Alumni Association in distributing donated masks to underserved residents. The ‘buy one-donate one’ approach of Auburn alumni proudly wearing a mask from their alma mater and donating a second mask to someone with limited resources is truly the spirit of Auburn’s creed. Efforts like this are what makes the Auburn University family special and real.”

This article has been edited from the original version appearing on the Auburn University website.

Lincoln Memorial University Professor Makes 300-Plus COVID-19 Masks for DAR Project

Katherine Pebworth, a sport and exercise science professor at Sullivan Foundation partner school Lincoln Memorial University (LMU), has made over 300 COVID-19 masks since June as part of a service project for the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR)—Service to America Committee.

“The DAR Service to America Committee started in March, so I was later to the sewing party, or I would have [made] more masks,” Pebworth said. “I thought, I haven’t sewn in many years, I will give it a try.”

Pebworth watched YouTube videos to perfect her mask-sewing technique and then set to work with fun prints like license plates and candy corn.

“I enjoy doing this as it now relaxes me. I like seeing the finished product,” Pebworth said. “It is one thing in this crazy time of 2020 that I have control over. If we are going to have to keep wearing these for a while, I did not want to keep using the disposable masks, so why not make them? I also like to use a variety of different fabrics. I, of course, keep one of each kind that I make for myself to wear.”

Pebworth became a member of DAR in 1996 when her mother signed her up. It was a few years later before she really started to take an active role. “Being involved, to me, helps me to honor my ancestors who fought hard to come to this country back in the 1600s,” she said. “It is a way that I can keep them alive. I like doing different service projects because it is a way to give back to the community.”

As of September 1, the organization has sewn and given away a total of 612,191 masks. Pebworth has given her masks to students and colleagues at LMU and mailed them to friends and family in other states. She even made a set of about 50 canoe print masks last month for all of the Lincoln Ambassadors and the staff of LMU Welcome Weekend to match the “Camp LMU” theme.

Since its founding in 1890, DAR members have worked to promote historic preservation, patriotism and educational ideals in communities across the nation and in overseas chapters. The Service to America initiative encourages members to become involved in community service to discover the rewards of volunteerism, to demonstrate the positive volunteer opportunities associated with DAR members to others, and to help make their local communities a better, friendlier place.

This article has been edited slightly from the original version appearing on the Lincoln Memorial University website.

University of Mississippi Researchers Seek New Ways to Help People Who Stutter

By Halleigh Derrick

Faculty and student researchers at the University of Mississippi’s Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders are investigating ways to help people of all ages who stutter, a condition that affects between five and 10 percent of all children at some phase of their lives, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.

The department’s Stuttering Science, Therapy, Advocacy and Research (SSTAR) Lab focuses its research on the science of stuttering as a means to create new treatment options. The SSTAR Lab also offers clinical services through the UM Speech and Hearing Center and serves as a training site for future speech-language pathologists learning to provide holistic patient care for those who stutter.

Greg Snyder, an associate professor of communication sciences and disorders at UM, worked with former students Molly Grace Williams and Caroline Adams on the lab’s most recent work, a study of stuttering and disclosure in children.

The team’s research is detailed in “The Effects of Different Sources of Stuttering Disclosure on the Perceptions of a Child Who Stutters,” published in the latest edition of Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Disclosure is simply when a person affirms that he or she stutters.

“Dr. Snyder is investigating disclosure of stuttering, which is one of the important avenues for managing stuttering,” said Vishaka Rawool, chair and professor of communication sciences and disorders at UM. “Stuttering can be concealed if a child chooses to keep quiet or only says a few utterances.”

When children disclose or share the fact that they stutter, it can reduce the perceived pressure to hide stuttering and increase self-esteem, confidence and quality of life, Rawool said. “In addition, disclosure has the potential to reduce the negative effects children can sometimes perceive or experience, including negative stereotypes, stigma, anxiety, depression and bullying,” she said. “Dr. Snyder’s continuing research in this area is expanding our knowledge about the most effective means of achieving disclosure.”

The study is the first of its kind to measure the effects of advocate disclosure on attitudes toward children who stutter, Snyder said.

this photo shows members of the SSTAR Lab, who are researching treatment options for stuttering at the University of Mississippi

SSTAR Lab members include (from left) Tiffany King, Peyton McKnight, Peyton Padgett, Dr. Greg Snyder, Rachel Davis, Ashley Koehler and Katelyn Geringswald. (Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services)

The work measures the effects of self-disclosure, mother-disclosure and advocate-disclosure on perceived speech skills and personality characteristics. Snyder and his students found there is a positive correlation between self- and advocate-disclosure, while a negative one when the mother takes on the responsibility.

“In essence, we’re trying to find better ways to give a voice to those struggling to find their own,” Snyder said. “Once you empower kids, kids will learn to empower themselves. The take-home point is that we’re going to solve this problem by increasing the resilience of children who stutter. We can’t fix the stuttering, but we can improve it.”

Rising seniors Katelyn Geringswald, of Olive Branch, Miss., and Madeline Simpson, of Houston, Texas, are continuing this research with Snyder, expanding their data on disclosure sources—including fathers, coaches and speech language pathologists—as a function of stuttering severity. They will also include the concept of perceived resilience in their data set.

“Stuttering was an area that I was not familiar with but was curious to learn more about,” Geringswald said. “I hope that our research will help with changing negative stereotypes that people who stutter experience. We hope to be able to teach children who stutter to be more resilient against these negative stereotypes.”

Graduates of the program, including Williams and Adams, are using their research and practical experience at top programs around the country, Snyder said.

After graduating from UM with her master’s in communication sciences and disorders, Williams moved to Nashville, Tenn., to work at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

Her work there includes speech, language and cognitive communication and swallowing evaluations and treatment at Vanderbilt’s acute center; educating caregivers and providing cognitive communication and swallowing therapy for patients with dementia in the memory care facility; and at-home help for a variety of cognitive communication and swallowing disorders with Brookdale Home Health.

“I stay very busy, but I love how my schedule is different each week and I am constantly challenged by these different settings,” Williams said. “Although I do not currently work with people who have a stutter, I believe that those experiences taught me the value of research and how to provide evidence-based treatment for my patients.”

Adams is in graduate school at the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences at the University of Texas at Dallas, working toward her Doctor of Audiology degree. “The older I get, the more I appreciate that so much of research in higher education is being an archer—sharpening these young professionals and then letting them loose into our world,” Snyder said.

this photo shows University of Mississippi scientists who developed a prosthetic device to help people overcome their stutters

University of Mississippi professors Greg Snyder (left), Paul Goggans and Dwight Waddell in 2012 developed a prosthetic device to help people who stutter speak more fluently. (Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services)

While the SSTAR Lab’s most recent research focuses on the stuttering community’s emotional well-being and self-efficacy, the multidisciplinary team of faculty researchers leading the lab’s efforts are best known for developing a wearable vibratory/tactile feedback prosthetic device that typically reduces stuttering frequency by about 80%.

Snyder joined forces with Dwight Waddell, director of the UM biomedical engineering program, an associate professor in electrical engineering and research associate professor in exercise science, and Paul Goggans, a professor of electrical engineering, to develop and patent the technology.

“Sharing the SSTAR Lab’s vision with colleagues, current students and alumni as a means of helping the underserved stuttering community is beyond fulfilling,” Snyder said. “The ability to live and work in an environment that supports the investment into stuttering research, our students and alumni has been exceedingly rewarding. It’s been an incredible blessing to be a part of the Ole Miss family.”

Campbell University Students Create COVID-Related Social Story for Exceptional Children

Students at Campbell University’s Jerry M. Wallace School of Osteopathic Medicine are taking a multimedia approach to helping exceptional children better understand the coronavirus and what they can do to keep themselves—and others—healthy during the pandemic.

Kayla Distin and Jack Thomas are leaders of the Exceptional Camels Interest Group, a sub-group of the Campbell Medicine Pediatrics Club. They partnered with illustrator Sumerlyn Carruthers to create the “Coronavirus Social Story,” an animated video that can be viewed on the Campbell Medicine YouTube Channel. Print copies of the story are also available.

Related: University of Alabama senior creates greeting cards to cheer nursing home residents

“The idea for the story came from our passion to care for exceptional children,” said Thomas, a second-year student. “We hope it will be helpful to all children, but we wanted to create something that could specifically help teachers and parents of exceptional children.”

Every superhero, including a child’s immune system, needs a sidekick.

“Rural special-needs children and their families are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 due to lack of access to relatable and understandable educational materials,” added Distin. “We hope this resource can serve as an interactive and accessible way for this population to learn about COVID-19 and ways to slow down its spread.”

“Everybody has an immune system hero inside of them,” one of the video’s narrators notes. But every hero needs a sidekick, and that’s where young viewers with special needs get to play their part—like true superheroes.

The video goes on to explain how to effectively wash your hands and practice social distancing. It recommends maintaining a distance of two arms length between friends and offering a “big thumbs-up” instead of a high-five. “When you see your friend, give them a big happy smile instead of a hug,” the video advises.

“An immune system sidekick gets to wear a mask in public—how cool!” the narration continues. “This may feel uncomfortable, but it helps keep germs from getting into our bodies. It may look a little scary to see people covering their face, but don’t worry: They are immune-system sidekicks just like you.”

Exceptional Camels Interest Group focuses on providing engaging opportunities for medical students to interact with individuals who have physical and intellectual disabilities.

“They did such a wonderful job getting such an important message across to a potentially vulnerable population,” said Dr. David Tolentino, associate dean for clinical affairs at Campbell University, a Sullivan Foundation partner school. “I especially like how they explain the importance of masks and not to be afraid of them because this is definitely a potential issue with children and exceptional members of our community regarding such a key concept in preventing the spread of COVID-19.”

This story has been edited from the original version appearing on the Campbell University website.

These Two William & Mary Alumnae Are Working to Transform Primary Care

By Claire De Lisle, William & Mary University Advancement

In March, with the pandemic picking up steam worldwide and graduation just around the corner, Dena Bashri was looking for her next step. A public health major with minors in math and Arabic, Bashri, a recent graduate of Sullivan Foundation partner school William & Mary, knew she wanted to put her education to good use, but how? And what opportunities would even be available during this economic downturn, when so many organizations have frozen hiring or are conducting all their business remotely?

Her first step: reaching out to the network of W&M alumni to learn more about possible career paths. That’s how she found out about the Transforming Primary Care fellowship offered this summer by the Weitzman Institute, the research and innovation arm of Community Health Center, Inc.

This summer, she and fellow W&M alumna Shivani Gupta are two of the six inaugural fellows in this program, which is entirely remote. They are working on projects as diverse as ensuring the homeless have access to telehealth and tracking the supply chain of COVID-19 testing kits.

“The inaugural Transforming Primary Care Summer Fellowship was offered nationally to graduates from the class of 2020, students who are going through the unique challenges brought by COVID-19 as they launch their careers,” said Mark Masselli, CEO and founder, in a press release. “We received an outpouring of excellent candidates and are fortunate to have a group of truly outstanding future healthcare leaders. The Fellows have brought limitless talent, energy and intellectual curiosity to their work at CHC and the Weitzman Institute.”

Dena Bashri
Bashri has always been interested in the intersections of health and migration. Growing up, she traveled with her family to Sudan every few years to see relatives and was fascinated by the ways in which displacement and conflict created a complex, diverse culture there. As a student at William & Mary, she studied abroad in Jordan to conduct research on the perceptions of the domestic worker sponsorship system among domestic workers and their employers.

Dena Bashri

“I understand that my life would be super-different if my family hadn’t been able to benefit from systems of migration,” she said. “For me, what’s really powerful is to be able to leverage my privilege to serve a greater cause in communities that reflect my own identity, an identity I didn’t see reflected much growing up or even at William & Mary.”

“As a black Muslim woman, it’s important to recognize that facets of my intersectional identity don’t hinder me,” Bashri added. “They help me gain a greater sense of empathy for others and connect with more people than I could have ever imagined.”

She sees her work in the fellowship as a way to make an impact on a community level. For her fellowship with CHC/Weitzman, Bashri joined their Center for Key Populations, which engages and advocates for populations who have traditionally experienced barriers to care, including homeless and LGBTQ+- identifying individuals, along with those living with substance-use disorders and hepatitis C.

Her projects this summer included helping homeless and displaced people connect to telehealth and creating a nurse-driven protocol for taking sexual histories that are more inclusive for all people, regardless of sexuality or gender identity. She also contributed to a presentation on health disparities in the COVID-19 pandemic for the Connecticut Institute for Refugees and Immigrants.

Her work combines literature reviews, background research and interviews—qualitative and quantitative research like she conducted at William & Mary as part of the Ignite Lab and Research and Evaluation unit of AidData.

“There are these open doors at William & Mary to conduct research as an undergrad and explore your interests. I don’t know if I would have had that anywhere else, that depth of knowledge, mentorship and experience,” she said. “I was comfortable and confident pursuing research opportunities like this one post-grad.”

In the future, she hopes to keep contributing to meaningful work at CHC or travel abroad to continue her work with underserved populations. She’s applying for a Fulbright scholarship to research Sweden as a case study of global response to the refugee crisis.

“In order to truly engage in meaningful work in a global context, you must be able to recognize and understand these same complex topics on a local scale,” Bashri says. “It’s more than just asking, ‘How can I help?’ It’s really about immersing yourself in holistic learning about the experiences and identities that form communities you are serving.”

Shivani Gupta
Gupta was also looking a remote opportunity to make a meaningful difference and was excited to learn about the fellowship. A public policy major with a global education minor, she had been in India on a Boren Scholarship all year but was called back to the U.S. in March as travel-related restrictions due to the pandemic began. Boren Scholarships, an initiative of the National Security Education Program, provide unique funding opportunities for U.S. undergraduates to study less commonly taught languages in world regions that are critical to U.S. interests and underrepresented in study-abroad programs.

Shivani Gupta

As part of the fellowship, Gupta is building a database that matches CHC/Weitzman’s priorities to their grants and helping manage their complex supply chain of COVID-related supplies.

“William & Mary encourages us to try to make an impact wherever we go, in small and big ways, and to think critically,” Gupta said. “My organizational behavior class especially gave me the confidence to offer up my ideas in this fellowship about how to improve workflow and be more efficient.”

As well as her fellowship, Gupta works for a social enterprise startup called Hope Sews that provides opportunities to seamstresses in Ghana. She is also interning with William & Mary’s Global Research Institute on a project for the Department of Defense’s U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, looking at the impacts of COVID-19 on women in the Pacific region.

“I definitely think it’s helpful at this time to stay busy, so it’s been really nice to have these opportunities. And they’re all things that I’m passionate about and interested in,” she said. “Coming back home, it’s been good to engage with the community in these collaborative opportunities.”

Gupta was encouraged to come to William & Mary by her AP Government teacher in high school, W&M alumna Allison White Cohen. “I started off thinking maybe I should major in government, but I learned I liked more of the community-driven aspects, seeing the impact on a local level,” she said. “So I switched to public policy, which led to work with the Office of Community Engagement, studying abroad in India and the work I’m doing now. This is a really interdisciplinary and unique major that you can really take in the direction that you want.”

Next, Gupta plans to work in the federal government for at least a year to fulfill the terms of her Boren Scholarship. She hopes to land a communications position focused on international development, education and health care.

“I’d like to combine my interest in policy and sustainable development to pursue, like, a social enterprise,” she says. “I think I could continue to make change that way.”

Shivani Gupta (left) and her roommate, Mina Parastaran, celebrate graduation at William & Mary. (Photo by Dani Aron-Schiavone)

This article has been edited from the original version appearing on the William & Mary website.

Alabama Senior Creates Greeting Cards to Cheer Up Nursing Home Residents

As the pandemic continues to disrupt the lives of people of all ages, University of Alabama senior DeMarcus Rudolph started a project creating greeting cards for senior citizens in nursing homes.

Rudolph, a 22-year-old Daphne native studying early childhood special education at the Sullivan Foundation partner school, said he started the project because nursing home residents can’t see their loved ones in person due to the novel coronavirus, and he wanted to do something to lift their spirits.

“It feels good to know that we’re putting smiles on people’s faces, especially during a time where people are sad because of what’s going on,” he said.

The project, called “Putting A Smile In Nursing Homes,” is a part of Rudolph’s foundation, Mary’s Dream, named for his grandmother, who taught him to always give back to others. She died a decade ago. “This is a way for me to remember her and continue the work that she did,” he said. “She’d give the clothes off her back to someone if they needed it. She did it all voluntarily.”

So far, Rudolph has written 102 greeting cards. They contain uplifting messages such as, “I don’t know how to tell you you’re amazing” and “Thank you for shining as bright as you do, and I hope you have a good day.”

He plans to send 159 cards to Albertville Nursing Home in Albertville, Ala. After that, he’ll begin making cards to send to 10 to 20 additional nursing homes statewide and across the country and is asking for recommendations.

In addition to nursing home suggestions, people can also help Rudolph by creating greeting cards themselves and sending them to him. For more information, contact Rudolph at rdemarcus59@yahoo.com.

This article has been slightly edited from the original version appearing on the University of Alabama website.

Researchers at George Mason University Set the Stage for a Test That Detects Tuberculosis in Children

A team headed by two scientists at Sullivan Foundation partner school George Mason University has developed a urine test that detects tuberculosis in many types of patients and has proven especially effective in children.

The groundbreaking test can work anywhere in the world and can accurately detect tuberculosis lung infection, even in absence of HIV co-infection. During a new clinical study involving 430 tuberculosis patients and controls from five different countries, Alessandra Luchini, Lance Liotta and their team discovered novel kinds of tuberculosis markers that reached high levels of sensitivity and specificity to meet World Health Organization (WHO) criteria.

The test proved especially effective in diagnosing tuberculosis in children, where it is particularly lethal when unidentified and untreated. The researchers presented their data in a paper published in the August 18 issue of the journal Science Reports.

“Untreated children have a high mortality rate and are responsible for spreading the disease,” said Luchini, an associate professor within Mason’s Center for Applied Proteomics and Molecular Medicine (CAPMM) within the College of Science. “A urine test is a very simple solution that can be deployed in developing countries.”

The urinary markers identified by the researchers were able to correctly detect the disease in patients affected by tuberculosis infection of the bones, the larynx, and the brain and surrounding membranes, which usually require sophisticated and very invasive diagnostic techniques.

Tuberculosis diagnosis in children currently requires sophisticated hospitals and very invasive procedures such as lowering a string into the child’s throat. Not even these techniques always provide a conclusive diagnosis, Luchini said.

The researchers have identified a new type of biomarker that has high selectivity for children. Their urine-based test targets a molecule that derives from the surface of Mycobacterium—the microorganism that causes the disease—and can be used to directly monitor the presence of the microorganism in the body.

Additionally, this study was the first to define a relationship between diabetes and tuberculosis, suggesting that sugar composition of the tuberculosis bacterium cell wall is altered in diabetic patients.

(By Children’s Bureau Centennial – 3f05369r)

“Tuberculosis is a deadly disease, particularly in children,” said Liotta, a Mason professor and the co-director of CAPMM. “The number of patients we could help by an early urine diagnosis is in the millions.”

The study was conducted on a large number of patients living in Guinea Bissau, Uganda, Peru, Venezuela and the United States, and defined the criteria needed for a worldwide test. It was funded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Tuberculosis remains the world’s top infectious killer, with 10 million people annually falling ill from the disease and 1.5 million dying, according to the WHO. It’s the leading cause of death of people with HIV.

College of Science Dean Fernando Miralles-Wilhelm lauded the Mason researchers and their team for the partnerships that made the medical advance possible. “Our infectious disease experts are diligently working to solve the world’s toughest public health problems, including cancer, COVID-19, HIV and tuberculosis,” he said. “We appreciate the partnerships with NICHD and organizations that prioritize child health to allow our scientists to pursue these global breakthroughs. This proven TB testing method indicates that together we are making significant progress.”

Luchini, Liotta and their team drew international headlines more than two years ago following their publication in Science Translational Medicine describing the use of nanotechnology to measure a sugar molecule in urine that identified active tuberculosis with a high degree of sensitivity and specificity, particularly in patients who were not co-infected with HIV.

This article has been edited slightly from the original version appearing on the George Mason University website.

Mercer University Medical School Professors Publish Groundbreaking Text on Health Equity

Two professors at Sullivan Foundation partner school Mercer University’s medical school—Dr. Bryan Smalley and Dr. Jacob Warren—have authored a textbook that’s the first of its kind in academic lecture: “Health Equity: A Solutions-Focused Approach.”

Published by by Springer Publishing, the book covers the systemic issues impacting pursuit of health equity as a nation and the needs of a wide range of population groups. Rather than simply describing the existence of health disparities, the text focuses on how to develop innovative approaches to achieve health equity through evidence-based approaches, promising practices and a series of case studies.

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“The factors driving health equity are numerous and wide-ranging,” said Dr. Smalley, associate dean for research at Mercer University School of Medicine (MUSM). “As a result, solutions come from diverse fields such as public health, sociology, political science and psychology. We wanted to bring all of those fields together in a single text for students and practitioners alike.”

Health equity is the field of study focused on ensuring that all individuals have equal opportunity to achieve and maintain health. A number of groups across the United States—ranging from African-American populations to rural populations—face stark disparities in a number of health outcomes. The field of health equity seeks not only to understand why these disparities exist, but also to develop ways to end them.

“It is time for action to achieve health equity for all populations,” said Dr. Warren, associate dean for diversity, equity and inclusion and the director of MUSM’s Center for Rural Health and Health Disparities, a National Institutes of Health Center of Excellence. “Our hope is that this book will help provide options and solutions for those engaged in this line of work.”

Dr. Smalley and Dr. Warren maintain an active line of health equity research focused on maternal and infant mortality, opioid overdose and chronic disease self-management, with nearly $7 million in active federal funding. They have worked extensively with communities to develop, implement and research the impact of health equity initiatives, including active work in 12 rural Georgia counties.

Mercer University’s School of Medicine was established in 1982 to educate physicians and health professionals to meet the primary care and health care needs of rural and medically underserved areas of Georgia. Today, more than 60 percent of graduates practice in the state of Georgia, and of those, more than 80 percent are practicing in rural or medically underserved areas of Georgia.

This story is an edited version of the original article appearing on the Mercer University website.