Rabies Still a Worldwide Health Issue, Says Lincoln-Memorial Expert Bonnie Price

Rabies kills tens of thousands of people around the world, and Bonnie Price, an assistant professor of veterinary health science at Sullivan Foundation partner school Lincoln Memorial University (LMU), doesn’t want anyone to forget the dangers posed by the disease.

Price helps to raise awareness about rabies as part of the National One Health Commission Bat Rabies Education Team. She talks about rabies at continuing education conferences to train veterinary staff on how to educate pet owners in Tennessee, Kentucky and Virginia. Most recently, Price presented in February at the College of Science, Technology and Mathematics at Tusculum University in Greeneville, Tennessee. Her presentation was titled “Toward the Global Eradication of Canine Rabies: Challenges and hope at the interface of human-animal medicine.”

Related: UK social enterprise will bypass big drug companies to make COVID-19 vaccine available to the poor

“Every year 50,000-60,000 humans die of rabies around the world, and outside of the U.S. it is mostly caused by canine rabies,” Price said. “The global rabies alliance has a goal to end canine rabies worldwide by 2030. This can be accomplished through widespread vaccination of dogs like we do in the U.S.”

Rabies is a deadly, yet preventable, viral disease that can be transmitted to people by infected mammals, including bats. Bats are an integral part of our ecosystem, serving important roles like pollination, seed dispersal, and eating disease-causing mosquitoes and crop-destroying insects. But they also can pose a health risk to people and pets through the transmission of the rabies virus. Not all bats have rabies, but bats are responsible for most human cases of rabies in the Americas.

this photo shows a bat looking ready to bite, although not all bats carry rabies

Not all bats carry rabies, but they’re responsible for most cases of the diseases in humans in the Americas.

Since Price’s most recent presentation, another zoonotic disease has been dominating news all over the world. “I think the link between rabies and COVID-19 is realizing we need to forge strong interdisciplinary teams to address these complex, multifactorial challenges we are seeing at the interface of humans, wildlife and domestic animals,” Price said. “Promoting strong communication skills and interdisciplinary connections is a big part of what we do in the veterinary science curriculum.”

There are strong collaborations among LMU faculty working on interdisciplinary projects in Allied Health Science, the DeBusk College of Osteopathic Medicine, the College of Veterinary Medicine and the School of Mathematics and Sciences.

“Over the last century, science and medicine has become more specialized,” Price said. “Often academics and physicians work in very specific fields, or silos, with little collaboration with other professionals. Rabies in the U.S. is a great example of a One Health success story.”

Related: This Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award winner beat breast cancer and helps other black women do the same

Through a greater understanding of how the virus moved between and affected domestic animals, wildlife and humans, human deaths in this country were reduced to between zero and three on average each year. This requires the ongoing efforts of professionals from veterinary and human medicine as well as public health professionals, laboratory biologists, environmental scientists, wildlife experts and more.

“We can take the lessons of the U.S. canine rabies eradication and apply them to not only decreasing canine rabies worldwide, but also apply these principles of interdisciplinary collaboration to prepare for and respond to other One Health challenges, such as COVID-19,” Price said.

Price is the Chair of the Veterinary Health Science and Technology Department for the LMU School of Allied Health Science. Before training in veterinary public health, she completed her undergraduate work in anthropology and participated in primate fieldwork and conservation studies throughout Central America and West Africa. Those experiences fostered a strong commitment to culturally competent and multidisciplinary approaches to improve health and wellness at the interface of animals, humans and the environment. Her teaching includes courses such as Zoonotic Disease, Wildlife Disease and The Human Animal Bond.

She lectures for undergraduates across multiple disciplines—including pre-med, pre-vet, nursing and conservation biology—with the goal of creating interdisciplinary collaborations very early in students’ training. She is also active in mentoring student leadership groups on campus. In addition to her work with undergraduates, she lectures on food safety for the LMU-College of Veterinary Medicine. Price earned her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine and Master of Public Health degrees from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

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

Brenau University Faculty, Students and Alumni Guide Georgians Through COVID-19 Quarantine

In the face of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), students, faculty and alumni at Sullivan Foundation partner school Brenau University are working hard to provide education and support for those in quarantine or who are transitioning from hospital to home.

That includes Brenau alumna Brittany White, a medical social worker at Emory University, who educates and assists patients and their families with care coordination, care progression and discharge planning.

Related: UK social enterprise will bypass big drug companies to make COVID-19 vaccine available to the poor

White, who earned her B.S. in health science in 2012 and M.S. in applied gerontology in 2013 from Brenau, said COVID-19 has pushed healthcare workers to be more creative and innovative in their daily practices. “We think critically,” she said. “We look at not just one aspect but the entire picture. We will not always be able to create a solution for everything, but we do everything we can to help facilitate the safest and most effective discharge for our patients.”

White credits her Brenau education with preparing her for the complex challenges brought on by COVID-19. “I work with a hospital system and team that are taking extraordinary measures that are innovative and [who] are all-around pioneers and world-leading experts,” she said. “I get to be a part of that. But if I know anything, as a Brenau graduate, I am like ‘gold refined by fire.’ Each day, I am working through this crisis, sifting, sorting and continuously refining. I love being a social worker, and I love that Brenau molded and refined me into the strong, resilient and leading woman that I am today.”

While White does not provide hands-on medical care, she is still affecting the lives of each person she encounters by offering as much support as possible. Sometimes, that means a different approach to a new problem.

Related: How Brenau University helps unseen and forgotten populations survive the pandemic

“COVID-19 has shown how resilient we social workers can be,” she said. “You get creative, you get smarter, and you work harder to find and facilitate solutions. Social workers are supposed to help patients and communities to cope and thrive in times of crisis and transition.”

An important part of that transition is quarantine care, and a new partnership at Brenau’s Ivester College of Health Sciences will ensure that quarantined individuals get the care and attention they need while also providing a vital learning opportunity for students.

Becky Metcalfe, associate professor of nursing at Brenau University

Through the nonprofit Hope Ripples, students in the Mary Inez Grindle School of Nursing will be providing help to those affected by COVID-19—particularly patients who have been sent home and are quarantined. In doing so, they will also be able to earn clinical hours.

“Brenau is going to be the first group working with Hope Ripples,” said Associate Professor of Nursing Becky Metcalfe, who was already volunteering with the organization prior to the new clinical partnership. “We’ll follow patients who have been sent home during their 14 days of quarantine, making sure to communicate what symptoms to watch for. When necessary, we’ll connect them to resources like food, medicine—anything they need.”

Students meet nightly online with a professor and other students to discuss their clients’ needs as well as their experiences in general. For nursing major Tenkela Williams, that includes gaining valuable experience in the field while also helping others.

Tenkela Williams, left, is one of the nursing students working with Hope Ripples. (Photo courtesy of Tenkela Williams)

“It will not only assist in my communication skills with clients, but it will also provide others with the necessary support they need to get through this virus and not feel as if they are alone throughout the process,” Williams said. “Without this one-on-one interaction, I would not feel as confident entering into the nursing profession.”

All of this is done via phone or Zoom, and volunteers follow a strict script with information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Related: University of Virginia faculty, alumni lead effort to combat food insecurity during pandemic

The CDC has been at the forefront of educating and protecting the public in regard to COVID-19, and that’s a big part of the job for Christy Smith, a quarantine public health advisor for the CDC and psychology student working on her master’s in clinical counseling at Brenau.

Smith is part of the preparedness team that works with quarantine stations at the land borders and the two major airports in Georgia—Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport. She is tasked with safeguarding the public by staying in close contact with the quarantine teams if they have to respond to a sick traveler. That includes creating and executing various plans with partners such as U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Throughout the year, the plans are worked on and practiced in case an outbreak occurs.

Christy Smith is a quarantine public health advisor for the CDC and is earning her master’s in clinical counseling psychology. (Photo courtesy of Christy Smith)

While she isn’t providing hands-on care, Smith, who in five years at the CDC has also been involved with responses to other viruses such as Ebola and Zika, is still hard at work preparing those who are in direct contact with the travelers to make sure illnesses do not enter the country. With COVID-19, the team has now switched to response mode, meaning those plans are put into action.

“Everybody has been coming together to respond to this pandemic,” Smith said. “All the effort that is being done to carry out these plans has always been there, but it’s magnified now. I’m proud to be part of it, even though it may not be recognized as much. I see it firsthand, and I know that we have extremely talented people doing difficult work.”

This article was edited slightly from the original version appearing on the Brenau University website.

Veteran Seeks to Help Injured Soldiers Regain Full Strength

When Brooks Herring decided to give college a try after serving in the U.S. Navy and working for the Army, he had one goal in mind: Creating a physical therapy program that would help wounded service members get back to the level of strength and activity they had before their injury.

All during his undergraduate years at Sullivan Foundation partner school University of South Carolina, the self-described Gamecock for life says he took every opportunity to have a typical college student experience while never losing sight of his ultimate goal.

Related: Winthrop University freshman leads charity supporting veterans

“I doubted myself coming back to school after all those years,” said Herring, who graduated summa cum laude and with leadership distinction in 2018 with a major in exercise science and a minor in business. “Once I made it through that first semester with a 4.0, I knew I would be OK.”

Herring is in his second year of the doctor of physical therapy program at the university’s Arnold School of Public Health. After that, he plans to pursue a Ph.D. in exercise science, focusing on his goal of using research-based evidence to help improve the lives of wounded veterans.

Brooks Herring in 2018, the year he earned his degree in exercise science at the University of South Carolina

Herring served in the Navy from 2005 to 2011 and deployed to Iraq and Africa. He was an Army civilian from 2011 to 2013 and deployed to Afghanistan. He made a commitment to give back to others who have sacrificed while serving their country. “I came home with all 10 fingers and toes, and I feel guilty about that,” Herring said.

“I recognized after I started as a student that there was a need for advocacy on campus. My personality type just doesn’t let me sleep knowing (there’s that need for veterans) unless I’m doing something about it,” added Herring, who was born on an Air Force base in Louisiana and raised in Conway, South Carolina.

He has created Run Phase, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that has partnerships in place waiting for him to finish his doctorate so he can begin working with veterans. Herring is working with professors in his graduate program to learn as much as he can about the human body and to use best practices to create a program that will help a variety of injuries.

“A lot of the work that needs to be done will come after graduation,” Herring said. “It will be a clinic with a different approach.”

The goal of much physical therapy is to get the patient able to handle daily tasks needed for independent living, such as being able to get around or take care of personal needs inside the home. What Herring envisions is more like the physical therapy that high-performance athletes undergo to rehab an injury.

“This is a young, physically fit, active and motivated population that has gone from a very high level of performance to a very low level,” Herring says of soldiers who have suffered a traumatic injury, such as the loss of a limb, a severe burn or brain injury associated with improvised explosive devices seen so much during the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“You couple that with combat trauma and you’re adding a psychological component that often isn’t even considered during PT,” Herring says. “Our current therapy regimens are getting them nowhere near where they were.”

Herring’s program would take over where traditional physical therapy leaves off — “for those that want to get to the next level of rehab.”

The clinical component for now will require funding because that is not the goal of federally funded physical therapy for service members. But Herring hopes that once he has completed his second doctorate, which will allow him to focus on research, he will be able to show the value of the higher level of rehab so it will be paid for by veterans’ benefits.

“I am able-bodied enough to benefit those who weren’t as lucky as I was,” Herring says. “I know the benefits of physical activity and I want to bring that experience home to others.”

This story was edited slightly from the original version appearing on the University of South Carolina website with additional material from this article.


UK Social Enterprise Will Bypass Big Drug Companies to Make COVID-19 Vaccine Available to the Poor

A new UK social enterprise has been formed to bring a promising COVID-19 vaccine to the world, sidestepping large pharmaceutical companies to make sure it’s made available and affordable to the poorest countries.

Founded by Imperial College London, VacEquity Global Health (VGH) will waive royalties and only charge modest cost-plus prices for the vaccine, enough to fund its ongoing research and accelerate global distribution.

VGH’s social mission is to rapidly develop vaccines to prevent SARS-CoV-2 infection and distribute them as widely as possible in the UK and abroad. “Right now we think the focus should be on how to solve the problem rather than how to make money out of it,” Simon Hepworth, the director of enterprise at Imperial, told the Thompson Reuters Foundation. “Social enterprise fits with our mission: applying scientific discoveries for the benefit of society.”

VGH is supported by Imperial and Morningside Ventures, a venture investor specializing in companies that develop innovative science for the public good. Morningside and Imperial also plan to launch a separate startup called VaXEquity (VXT), which will develop self-amplifying RNA technology used in the vaccine to treat other health conditions beyond the coronavirus pandemic.

The two new ventures are built upon the research of Professor Robin Shattock, who pioneered the technology of self-amplifying RNA. Shattock is Head of Mucosal Infection and Immunity at Imperial College London and co-founder of both VGH and VXT.

this photo shows the gloved hands of a scientist at VacEquity Global Health doing research on a vaccine for the coronavirus

VacEquity Global Health’s vaccine uses self-amplifying RNA technology to trigger an immune response in a host cell and produce immunity to COVID-19.

For COVID-19, the technology is used to deliver genetic instructions to muscle cells to make the “spike” protein found on the surface of the coronavirus. This protein triggers an immune response in the host to produce immunity to the coronavirus.

The vaccine will enter phase one of human trials with 300 people on June 15. Another trial involving 6,000 people is planned for October. If these human trials are successful, the Imperial vaccine can be distributed in the UK and overseas early next year, Imperial College London reported in a press release.

The quick progress is possible because self-amplifying RNA technology lends itself to rapid manufacturing scale-up, the company says. A large quantity of vaccine doses can be made in manufacturing facilities with a small footprint. The team’s supply chain and manufacturing partners will be ready to produce tens of millions of vaccines from early 2021, the company said.

“We have spent an intense six months to fast-track our vaccine to the clinic,” Shattock said. “Now we are ready to combat the virus through our clinical trials. We are grateful to the thousands of people helping us advance the vaccine: from donors, investors and the government to volunteers for our clinical trials. These new enterprises are the most effective way for us to deliver COVID-19 vaccines quickly, cheaply and internationally, while preparing for future pandemics.”

photo of a sample dish used in research for a COVID-19 vaccine at Imperial College London

If upcoming human trials are successful, the Imperial vaccine can be distributed in the UK and overseas early next year, according to VGH and Imperial College London.

Kate Bingham, chair of the UK Vaccine Taskforce, said the UK is making “remarkable” progress in developing a vaccine “and the speed with which Imperial has progressed its self-amplifying mRNA vaccine has been breathtaking. Imperial’s technology shows great promise, so I welcome this further move to accelerate development of a potential vaccine.”

Professor Alice Gast, president of Imperial College London, said VGH and VXT “will fight disease, create thousands of jobs and fast-track scientific advances. We are determined to both defeat the current coronavirus and improve the world’s readiness to fight pandemics for generations to come.”

The Quest for Water: Elizabeth De Wetter Organizes 6K Fundraiser to Build Wells in Zambia

Water covers roughly 71 percent of the earth’s surface, yet there’s not nearly enough of it for millions of people in developing countries. In their never-ending search for  water, women and children around the world walk an average of six kilometers or 3.7 miles every day—and the precious little water they can find is often contaminated.

The irony is not lost on Elizabeth De Wetter, a past attendee of the Sullivan Foundation’s Ignite Retreat and a sophomore majoring in psychology at Sullivan Foundation partner school Sewanee: The University of the South. That’s why she and her team at Strong Women Strong World (SWSW) next gen are working to raise funds for two wells in Zambia while also promoting the upcoming World Vision Global 6K for Water, to be held remotely around the planet on May 16.

Related: “Pledge My Check” campaign asks financially stable Americans to donate their stimulus checks to help people in need

SWSW next gen is a pilot initiative launched in conjunction with World Vision and Brake the Cycle. De Wetter’s project is an offshoot of the World Vision Global 6K—it will raise money for World Vision while providing participants a chance to pay whatever they can afford to enter instead of the standard $50 registration fee. “We realize that many people are struggling financially right now and may not be able to donate that amount,” De Wetter said. “SWSW next gen is offering a sliding scale registration fee for our 6K so everyone who wants to participate can—any amount or nothing at all is OK.”

Anyone who signs up to participate in the race through SWSW next gen’s online registration form can also make a donation towards building the wells in Zambia, helping to ensure clean water for two communities in that country. To learn more or to sign up to participate, click here.

this is a photo illustrating the World Vision Global 6K for Water

Of course, the coronavirus pandemic has changed the dynamics of fundraising events like the World Vision Global 6K. “Instead of the typical format of a race, where we would start and finish at the same points, we are encouraging individuals and their families to participate from their own treadmill, neighborhood streets or trails, while respecting social distancing,” De Wetter said.

De Wetter has long been passionate about clean water accessibility and discovered she could make a difference by joining SWSW next gen. “When I heard the statistic that, each day, women and girls around the world will walk the distance of the moon and back to gather clean water, I was shaken,” she recalled. “I was blessed enough to be welcomed by multiple members of the organization who immediately helped me get involved and later encouraged me to contribute with my own projects, which is where the idea for doing our own 6K came from.”

Related: Two Wofford College social entrepreneurs plant a SEED. for global change

De Wetter knows the scarcity of clean water doesn’t just mean people sometimes go thirsty. “Something as simple as a lack of clean water erases almost any and all opportunities for education, in addition to contributing to poor health, hygiene and sanitation, which in turn leads to disease and death,” De Wetter notes. “Each day 1,000 children under the age of five will die from diarrhea caused by contaminated water. These deaths are totally preventable!”

photo of woman in Africa who must deal every day with a lack of clean water

Water scarcity is a gender issue equity in developing countries. Women and girls must collect water for their families every day, which prevents them from getting an education, working at a job or starting a business.

Additionally, since women and girls are typically responsible for collecting water, it’s a gender equity issue as well. “This often keeps them out of school, which means that instead of learning and preparing for a job or starting their own business, they are at an increased risk of assault, child marriage, childbirth mortality and continued poverty,” De Wetter said.

Something as simple as digging a functional well can transform a community in a country like Zambia. “We can provide clean water to an entire village of around 300 people by building a well that costs $15,000,” De Wetter said. “This will allow girls to attend school rather than spending all day gathering water for their families. It will provide women and girls with a means to care for their menstrual hygiene instead of having to put their lives on hold each month. It will free families to focus on their education, businesses and livelihoods rather than spending hours collecting water that will only make them sick.”

De Wetter adds that a donation of $50 can provide clean water to one person for their entire lifetime.

Related: Elon Musk’s brother wants to build a “super farm” to address food insecurity

photo of Elizabeth De Wetter

Elizabeth De Wetter

De Wetter’s interest in changemaking led her to the Sullivan Foundation’s Fall 2019 Ignite Retreat, which she described as “an amazing experience in so many ways.”

“The mentors who spoke and led groups over the weekend were so inspiring, encouraging, and passionate that you couldn’t help but get excited about making a difference,” she recalled. “It was an experience that shifted not only the way I think about problem solving but also my belief in humanity. Being surrounded by so many other young people who also want to make a difference and are actually doing so gave me so much hope!”

De Wetter has found her tribe of fellow changemakers with World Vision and SWSW next gen and wants to continue to enlighten others about clean water and its impact on basic human rights. “I am disturbed by so many of the injustices in the world and passionate about making whatever impact I can during my lifetime,” she said. “This is an area where I can actually make a very tangible impact in a relatively short period of time and truly change people’s lives just by getting the word out, raising awareness and money, and educating people on the importance of clean water. What a miraculous way to use some of my numerous blessings to help others!”

Former Volleyball Star from Cumberland University Now Saving Lives in Pandemic

Cumberland University graduate McCrea Barney has transitioned from the volleyball court to the healthcare field fighting one of the toughest pandemics the world has seen in 100 years.

McCrea transferred to Cumberland from Faulkner State Community College in Bay Minette, Alabama. She registered 1,115 assists in two seasons for the Sun Chiefs en route to one NJCAA National Tournament appearance where she met the Cumberland coaching staff.

Related: This social enterprise manufactured 1,500 face shields in five days for medical professionals

“Cumberland was at nationals recruiting and ended up recruiting four of us. When I did my official visit, it felt like home. Everyone was very welcoming. I fell in love with the campus,” Barney said about her recruitment. “Cumberland gave me a chance to gain a degree in nursing and still continue to play volleyball. Not many colleges allow that.”

In 2013, Barney played in every single set for Cumberland, mainly as the team’s libero, collecting 323 digs. She earned Mid-South Conference Scholar-Athlete honors that season.

Her senior year she posted 141 digs and 154 assists in 82 sets. McCrea enjoyed the bus rides the most during her playing career, saying that “…we shared so many laughs. That’s where we bonded the most.”

photo of McCrea Barney in her volleyball team shirt

McCrea Barney

McCrea Barney spent one more year at Cumberland to finish out her nursing degree graduating in May 2016. She has since moved back home to Mandeville, Louisiana, 35 miles away from New Orleans, to work at Lakeview Regional Medical Center. She normally works nights on the Cardiac Progressive Care Unit as an RN-BSN but has been shifted to the COVID-19 unit.

“We get one gown per patient all night unless it gets soiled. I reuse the same mask, goggles and helmet with a face shield all night. I have to wipe them off every time I enter and exit a patient’s room.”

Louisiana currently has 9,150 cases of coronavirus across the state with 310 reported deaths. Over 2,170 cases were reported yesterday causing Louisiana to pass Florida for the fifth-most cases in the United States.

“It’s mentally, physically and emotionally draining. People are dying and suffering alone. This disease is unknown. It’s scary.” Barney added.

Related: Mercer University grad focuses on HIV prevention in Peace Corps work

McCrea Barney not only showed great leadership in her sport at CU but translated it into her profession. She has shown incredible strength, dedication, selflessness and compassion for her community.

She is taking this horrible situation and finding a way to make it positive.”I like learning hands-on so I have learned a lot from this pandemic,” Barney said. “The only positive thing from this is how the community is supporting healthcare workers and my team has worked together. We’ve become more of a family.”

This article was edited slightly from the original story appearing on the Cumberland University website.

This Social Enterprise Manufactured 1,500 Face Shields in 5 Days for Medical Professionals

As medical workers around the world cry out for face shields as protection against the coronavirus, a social enterprise in Malaysia has swiftly mobilized to fulfill the need, working out of a maker space in Publika.

The community of makers, called Me.reka, is part of the Biji-Biji Intiative, a pioneer in Malaysian social entrepreneurship with a focus on solving environmental issues. Biji-Biji empowers people with the skills to design, build and upcycle sustainable products.

As the coronavirus pandemic began to spread, the Biji-Biji and Me.reka teams met with hospital directors and healthcare professionals around Malaysia about the critical lack of protective face shields for front-line medical workers. Me.reka set to work soliciting donations and volunteers via social media and organizing multiple production sites, all with the goal of producing durable and reusable face shields with replaceable parts.

Me.reka rounded up more than 30 industry partners who contributed materials, logistics solutions and machinery to get production on the face shields started, Tatler reports. The community of makers produced more than 1,500 shields in five days and delivered them to medical professionals around Malaysia.

Biji-Biji says it sends three to five replacement parts for each individual face shield unit delivered to hospitals, allowing the shields to be reused multiple times.

According to the Biji-Biji Initiative’s Instagram account, the project had produced and delivered 3,700 reusable face shields and 7,970 replacement parts as of March 31. Their target goal is 18,000.

Other Biji-Biji teams, meanwhile, have been working on and testing prototypes for ventilators and isolation boxes, also in high demand. Additionally, on April 3, the social enterprise announced on Instagram that it had created a functioning aerochamber, a delivery system for inhaler medicine. While ordinarily used by children with asthma and other respiratory issues, aerochambers have become essential tools in the battle against the coronavirus.

“Witnessing the solidarity of Malaysians acting quick, foregoing bureaucracy, going out of their way to mobilize people and resources, taking risks and putting the cause first: it was a profound experience,” Ambika Sangaran, CEO of Biji-Biji Ethical Fashion, told Tatler.


University of Virginia Nursing Students Hone Their Skills on the Streets

It’s a Sunday evening, about suppertime, and the patient— a 71-year-old man with type 1 diabetes—lolls in and out of consciousness deep in the folds of an overstuffed armchair, a NASCAR race on TV and the smells of the dinner, not yet served, mixing with the pulpy heat of the woodstove.

University of Virginia nursing student Ryan Thomas, who moments before was riding shotgun in an ambulance, a map sprawled across his lap, expertly snaps on a pair of blue rubber gloves and addresses the patient whose family dialed 9-1-1 when he became unresponsive.

“Carl?” [not his real name] Thomas says gently, touching the man’s arm, “Do you know what year it is?”

No response.

CARL,” Thomas booms, now twice as loud. “CAN YOU TELL ME YOUR LAST NAME?”

On this evening, the Western Albemarle Rescue Squad team—a group that includes Thomas, Haydon Pitchford, Taylor Vest, David Clarke and Kassie Sadler—is responsible for covering the roughly 260 square miles that make up this portion of the county. WARS, as it’s known, is one of a dwindling number of all-volunteer rescue squads in the area. With eight trucks, two kayaks, and bags of mobile medical supplies, they respond to calls across the socio-economic and situational spectrum: from the paved cul-de-sacs in high-end subdivisions to pitted-out dirt roads and modest trailers and cabins deep in the Blue Ridge foothills.

Their call tonight is like a well-choreographed dance; they pivot easily around the patient and one another with practiced grace. This is the Sunday night crew, on each week from 6 p.m. to 7 a.m. the next morning, and for one 24-hour shift every six weeks.

To Thomas, 22, an advanced EMT, it’s the best part of nursing.

Ryan Thomas, a UVA fourth-year nursing student, volunteers with the Western Albemarle Rescue Squad team. (Photo by Christine Phelan Kueter, UVA School of Nursing)

“Yes, I wanted to give back to my community in a genuine, unique way, and yes, I want to hone my skills,” says Thomas, of Lovettsville, who first volunteered for his hometown rescue squad at age 16. “But I’m also here for the fun, even though it’s not strictly fun: the thrills, the camaraderie of the team, and to have this second family.”

“Look for the helpers” in tough situations, Mister Rogers advised. But if nursing schools are filled to the brim with those wishing to do good, some—including students Thomas, Sam Anderson, Aliana Kyle, Raniyah Majied and Alice Thomson, along with alumnus Andrew Baxter, Charlottesville’s fire chief, along with many, many others—embrace the role even more deeply. They are emergency responders, every inch of them a helper.

Related: Rollins College remembers 2001 Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award winner Mister Rogers

Seeing Beyond the Hospital
For some, emergency response work made visible a path to nursing school at the University of Virginia, a Sullivan Foundation partner school. That was true for Alice Thomson who, even as she changed academic pursuits—first English, then public policy, then government relations—kept the constant of volunteering as an emergency responder, which ultimately led her to nursing.

“The best way I can describe nursing,” says Thomson, now in her first year of UVA’s clinical nurse leader master’s program, “is that, once I was doing it, I realized it was a lifelong dream I never knew I had.”

She’s also found the emergency work deeply influences her nursing, particularly in her current role in UVA’s Emergency Department, where so much depends on a broad understanding of a patient’s situation—details emergency responders often see and describe to providers at the ambulance/hospital door hand-off.

“It’s shown me how important it is to know what that patient’s life is like when they dial 9-1-1,” says Thomson, who volunteers each Wednesday as fire captain at Seminole Fire and Rescue in Charlottesville. “The more information you have from the very beginning, the more holistic your picture is going to be for what your patient really needs.”

That holistic vantage is one that Chief Baxter, who earned his B.S. in nursing from UVA in 1994, sees and appreciates, too. Baxter came to nursing after accepting a job with UVA Hospital’s weight and lift team in 1990, observing emergency responders on the Pegasus helicopter and “quickly realizing, in terms of translating my interests into education and a career, that the nursing profession was the best way to do that.”

During nursing school, Baxter volunteered with Charlottesville-Albemarle Rescue Squad, and appreciated how its practical, boots-on-the-ground work strengthened his experience, critical thinking and leadership skills, while profoundly deepening his understanding of the community. It was a view, he recalls, of the social determinants of health that work in the hospital simply didn’t offer.

As an emergency responder, “You’re in people’s homes, you’re in their lives at times when they’re incredibly vulnerable, and it’s an incredibly intimate experience,” he explains. “You see people in a way that’s pretty rare. You could probably ask them those same questions in a primary care setting, but to be in their home, or to interact with them if they’re homeless—well, it’s a whole different level of understanding.”

“There’s a lot of things that you see that a lot of people will never see in their life,” Thomas adds, “and it’s a privilege to be part of that experience.”

Learning Kindness
For some, emergency response work provides a litmus test. Raniyah Majied took EMT classes at her Salem high school to see whether she could stomach a career in health care, in the process transitioning from taking classes to “make a grade” to “really wanting to understand the reasons why we do what we do” during emergency calls.

In addition to the technical, communication and critical thinking skills she gleaned from the volunteer work, Majied also found great meaning in offering small kindnesses, especially for isolated patients who, especially in older age, had few relationships. Even as she begins clinical rotations this spring, it’s already developed in her a love of geriatric nursing.

Nursing student and emergency response volunteer Raniyah Majied says working with isolated, elderly patients on call helped her realize her passion for geriatric nursing. (Photo by Christine Phelan Kueter, UVA School of Nursing)

“Sometimes they’d say, ‘I called my daughter, but she didn’t answer,’ or, ‘I haven’t seen my kids in a really long time,’ or, ‘My spouse passed away,’” Majied says. “As a nurse, I’ll get a lot of opportunities to have these connections with people. I’m excited to be a nurse and have way more time with them than I do as an EMT.”

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Given their exposure to humanity across the spectrum, emergency responders’ situational agility, in turn, strengthens their confidence, poise and kindness.

“You’re going into people’s homes where they’re sick, and lying in bed,” second-year nursing student Sam Anderson explains. “So a lot of it is using very comfortable language with patients, being very polite and courteous, and giving them autonomy, or as much autonomy as possible, with the decision about how to proceed forward.”

That kindness and calm, Baxter says, fosters trust and are traits people remember.

“People don’t write and tell me, ‘Boy, your fire crews did a great job deploying that inch and three-quarters attack line on that house fire,’” he laughs. “They write and say, ‘I can’t believe the care that your crew took so I could go back in the house and get my grandmother’s wedding dress.’ And that’s just phenomenal.”

Bringing it Back to the Classroom
Emergency responders aren’t just a boon in disaster. These student volunteers are influential in the nursing classroom, too, where nursing professor Bethany Coyne says they enrich and broaden discussions of topics that lie beyond skills-based competencies, like the interconnectedness of education and health, ethics case studies, and the social determinants of health.

They also model confidence and calm, traits that are noted assets at the bedside and in the classroom. Their peers, Coyne says, take note—and heart—at their ability to think critically.

“They have all these experiences that are beyond the hospital walls,” Coyne says, “and they’ve seen patients and clients outside of the inpatient setting, and that perspective is really valuable.”

Thomson agrees that emergency work has strengthened her nurse’s confidence.

“You can have imposter syndrome when you walk into a patient’s room,” she says. Being a firefighter “has really given me a sense of confidence that I translate into patient care. If you can think on your feet and you can do something with nothing, you’re on your way to being a great nurse.”

Building Confidence
Perhaps most of all, emergency responders do what they do to give back. Aliana Kyle, who grew up in Warrenton, became an EMT as a high school junior, driven by an invisible but palpable sense of purpose and vision. These days, her weekly volunteer work with the Seminole Fire Station on the northern side of Charlottesville—while challenging—has scratched an itch she felt as an EMT to learn firefighting and encouraged her to develop the kind of mental and physical problem-solving skills she says she couldn’t necessarily get from a classroom, in a lab, or by reading a book.

Currently in training, Kyle has spent the last year learning the ropes: how to suit up in more than 40 pounds of gear in less than two minutes, how to properly flow water lines and hoses, how to queue engines and “throw” ladders, even how to use a chainsaw while perched on a roof. It’s exciting, exhilarating work, she says, and part of “doing hard things to achieve personal growth.”

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And grow and learn, they do. Thomas, now an emergency responder for a half-dozen years, says emergency work has helped him understand the importance of resilience and well-being, particularly as he deals with difficult calls. Coming into contact with a range of human conditions, Thomas says, both challenges and strengthens his nursing—a field he says he wouldn’t have found without being an emergency responder first.

That he’s created a tightknit second family with his Sunday night crew is a powerful motivator to keep volunteering, too, reinforcing as it does the value of teamwork, friendship and support.

“I’m definitely more confident because I do this,” says Thomas, who graduates this spring and has plans to remain in Charlottesville, continuing his volunteer work with WARS. “With my team, I know we can together really help those who need it.”

That includes people like Carl, who, from his living room chair, received two bags of intravenous fluids from Thomas and Pitchford before groggily coming to, blinking open his eyes, and beginning to pick at a plate of peanut butter crackers and glass of orange juice from his mother that would keep his blood sugar stable and in the safe zone.

He even gets the team to chuckle when Thomas—to ensure that he’s fully functioning and doesn’t need a trip by ambulance to the emergency room—asks him who the president of the United States is.

“Somebody who’s about to find himself impeached,” drawls Carl, a half smile on his face, to which Thomas replies, “I think someone’s feeling better.”

This story was edited slightly from the original article appearing on the University of Virginia website.


Bellarmine University’s Doctor of Therapy Students Help Belizeans Help Themselves

Over the past six years, students and faculty in Bellarmine University’s Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program have evaluated and treated hundreds of patients in Belize during a 10-day elective course for third-year students.

But what’s more important is they have done this by partnering with organizations in Belize, teaching rehab aides, volunteers and patients themselves how to continue the efforts on their own.

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“The focus is on the education and the projects, promoting activities that Belizeans can run, so that we are not a necessary part of the care equation,” said Dr. Carrie Hawkins, assistant professor of physical therapy and director of clinical education in Bellarmine’s DPT program. “My hope is that one day our services are not needed in Belize.”

Dr. Hawkins made the initial foray to Belize in 2015 and began taking students the following year. Ordinarily, eight to 12 students accompany two faculty members each year. January 2020 was a bit of an anomaly, with just three students and Dr. Hawkins making the trip, but Bellarmine partnered with Alvernia University in Reading, Penn., and Misericordia University in Dallas, Penn., so that physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy could be represented as the students visited five clinical partners.

Students from Bellarmine University’s Doctor of Physical Therapy program have been traveling annually to Belize since 2016.

At the Mercy Clinic, which provides primary care for adults 60 years and older, students were greeted with the question, “Is Carrie here?”

“We thought, ‘Who’s Carrie?’” Bellarmine third-year student Jessica Francis said during a presentation about this year’s trip. Carrie, of course, is Dr. Hawkins, who has seen the Mercy Clinic space grow from what was essentially a dirty, cluttered closet in 2016 to a full PT clinic with treatment tables and equipment purchased in consultation with Bellarmine faculty and students.

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During that first year, Dr. Hawkins said, “We removed clutter, inventoried items that we thought could be used, set up the PT clinic, and started recruiting patients from the waiting room. We saw about 35 patients that year. The following years were similar, seeing 45 to 75 patients and providing in-services on stroke care, transfer training, and in-home care.”

Last year, the Mercy Clinic was able to hire a full-time, on-site physical therapist.

Bellarmine students enjoy a visit to ancient Mayan ruins in Belize.

The students also spent time doing evaluations at The Inspiration Center, a pediatric outpatient clinic that Bellarmine has worked with since 2016. Student Daniel Ryan noted that most patients travel great distances to have one evaluation per year. “One patient’s mother got on a bus for three hours to the center to have an hour treatment and then rode three hours home,” he said. The students also helped to create a sensory path on a wheelchair ramp.

Bellarmine added three new partners this year:

  • At the YWCA, students led older adults in Tai Chi, helped teach a caregiver training course for 14 high-school-age women, and trained daycare workers and preschool teachers how to make sure 3- and 4-year-old children are meeting developmental milestones.
  • At HelpAge Belize, students assisted with evaluation and treatment of about 90 people, some from the community and some from nursing homes. They also trained caregivers on how to safely transfer patients in and out of wheelchairs.
  • With LIFE Belize, a group of volunteers who work with homebound seniors 65 years old and up, the students completed 10 home visits over two days, offering suggestions on how to make them as independent as possible. This was “the most eye-opening experience I had,” Jessica said. They showed a man who had a spinal cord injury from being shot how to do a simple stand-pivot maneuver so that he could take his first shower in a year, Jessica said. “He was so happy he was tearing up,” she said.\

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In just these five sites, the students were able to treat a wide variety of diagnoses, said Bellarmine third-year Joey Davis. And the training and mentoring they did “are great things to put on a résumé,” Hawkins said.

For Jessica, the experience was very humbling. “They knew we were students, but they really trusted that whatever we were doing was going to help them in the future, and they just wanted that help,” she said.

“You try to either make a difference or not be a nuisance,” Joey said. “You are not native to that land, so whatever you do has to be bettering or educating someone there who can continue with what you are starting.”

And that’s happening, Hawkins said. Every year she makes the trip, “I see something better. There’s another organization helping. There’s another organization that has expanded what they are able to do. That’s how we choose our clinical partners—they are working hard to do things. They just need a little more assistance, a little bit more education. And if we do that, they are going to take that and run with it and have a huge impact. It is really paying off.”

Scotland’s Parliament Makes Sanitary Products Free to All Women

Scotland’s Parliament has passed legislation that would make sanitary products free for anyone who needs them, marking what Upworthy describes as a “landmark event in the movement to make menstrual hygiene a basic human right.”

Labour Party lawmaker Monica Lennon proposed the Period Products Scotland Bill, which makes products such as tampons and sanitary pads free for all women and available in pharmacies, community centers and youth clubs.

The bill passed on Feb. 27 by a vote of 112-0 with one abstention. But according to the New York Times, obstacles still loom, particularly as lawmakers try to figure out how to cover the bill’s projected $31 million price tag.

In 2018, Scotland became the first country to provide free sanitary products in schools, colleges and universities. It will now be the first country to offer the products for free to everyone.

a photo of a period tax protester at Ohio State University

An anti-period tax movement is underway in the U.S. too. Here, a student at Ohio State University took part in a protest against the tax on the inaugural National Period Day, October 19, 2019. Ohio has since repealed the tax.

Great Britain levies a 5 percent tax on tampons and can’t lift it due to European Union rules that designate them as “luxury products.” However, the EU has pledged to abolish all taxes on menstruation products by 2022, the New York Times says. Meanwhile, about 62 million pounds, or $80 million, collected in Britain’s period-tax revenue has been diverted to women’s charities for the past five years.

Still, nearly 10 percent of girls in Britain have been unable to afford menstruation products, and 19 percent have had to use substitutes like rags, newspapers and toilet paper because of the expense, according to a study on period poverty and stigma by Plan International UK, a charity supporting girls’ rights.

According to The West News, Lennon has long objected to classing tampons and similar products as luxury items. “They are indeed essential,” she said, “and no one in Scotland should have to go without period products.” She added that the bill is about “period dignity.”

The battle for “period dignity” continues to rage in the U.S., where 33 states charge a tax on sanitary products, according to Fortune. American women pay an estimated $150 million a year in period taxes. Not counting states that have no sales taxes at all, states that exempt feminine hygiene products from sales taxes include Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Utah.

To call attention to the tampon tax in other American states and to overcome the stigma associated with menstruation, Harvard University changemaker and activist Nadya Okamoto co-founded a nonprofit called Period in 2014 – when she was just 16 – and launched National Period Day, observed on October 19, 2019, for the first time. Period is pushing bills to lift the period tax in every state that has one.

this photo shows Nadya Okamoto, an activist trying to repeal the period tax

Nadya Okamoto is the cofounder of the nonprofit Period, creator of National Period Day and a leader of the national movement to get rid of the period tax.