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.”

Related: Scotland’s Parliament aims to make sanitary products free for all women

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.”

Related: Social enterprise trains blind women to detect early signs of cancer by touch

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.

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

“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.

Related: Social enterprise trains blind women in developing countries to detect early signs of cancer – by touch

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.\

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

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.

This Sullivan Award Winner Beat Breast Cancer and Helps Other Black Women Do the Same

Although breast cancer is less common in black women, they are 40 percent more likely to die from it than white women. Niasha Fray, a researcher at Sullivan Foundation partner school Duke University, understands that worrisome statistic better than most: After spending part of her career counseling women with breast cancer to stick with their treatment, she was diagnosed with the disease herself in 2017.

But Fray, now the program director for the Duke Center for Community & Population Health Improvement, didn’t let breast cancer get in the way of serving others. She was one of three recipients of the 2019 Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award at Duke, and her experience as a breast cancer survivor and her work in promoting health and behavior change for at-risk populations also earned coverage by NPR in 2018.

Each year Duke University recognizes a graduating senior and a member of the faculty, staff or graduate student body with the Sullivan Award. In addition to Fray, Duke presented the award to two students in 2019—Idalis French, a psychology major, and Moreen Njoroge, an evolutionary anthropology major.

Niasha Fray: Helping Women Survive Breast Cancer

Fray’s selflessness inspired her colleagues to nominate her for the award. “Every time I have known her to make a commitment to help others, I have seen her follow through in a way that surpasses the expectations of those she is serving,” wrote nominator Helene Milve, a medical instructor in the Duke Department of Population Health Sciences.

Related: Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award winner shares untold stories of African-Americans at Washington and Lee University

Fray works on health promotion, behavior change and counseling for at-risk populations affected by HIV/AIDS, substance abuse, post-traumatic stress and breast cancer. She also is a guest lecturer in the course, ”AIDS: Principles and Policy,” at the University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health. She is a member of Healthy Durham 20/20, an organization working to improve the health and quality of life for the Durham community.

this photo shows Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award winner Niasha Fray

Niasha Fray (right) accepts the 2019 Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award from Duke Provost Sally Kornbluth. (Photo by Les Todd)

As a counselor researching disparities in cancer outcomes at UNC-Chapel Hill, she used a type of therapy called motivational interviewing to help women overcome obstacles that deterred them from taking their medications, which often have unpleasant side effects. “They had just given up so much of their lives, so much of their bodies, so much of their family,” Fray told NPR in October 2018. “They wanted to get back to life as usual.”

As NPR reported, studies have found that black women are less likely to have health insurance or to get screened for breast cancer, which means their cancer is often advanced by the time they get into treatment. They’re also less likely to stick with the prolonged daily endocrine therapy treatment prescribed for certain common types of breast cancer, often because they can’t afford it and the medications are so unpleasant. One study noted that 14 percent of black women didn’t take their medications every day as prescribed, compared to about 5 percent of white women.

Fray told NPR the disparity might also have something to do with the fact that so many black women identify strongly as caregivers. As a counselor, she found that black women were often more accustomed to looking after others than themselves. “There was a lot of conversation about the stress of being a caregiver,” Fray told NPR. She said she had many discussions with patients about “the stress of being a black person in America and having doctors not listen to you, having employers that don’t care about you.”

Fray underwent surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatment for breast cancer during the summer of 2018, and her prognosis is good, according to NPR. But the battle continues as she faces 10 long years of endocrine therapy. “You gotta get your mind right,” she said in the interview. “You can’t change the scenario or the situation. How do I change my mind?”

Related: Rollins College remembers Mister Rogers, a 2001 winner of the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award

Fray continues to help other black women “put on the armor of self-care” while conducting her research at Duke, making her a strong choice for the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award. “This award is for the people making sure our world, our community, our families and ourselves are healthy,” Fray said in accepting the award last April. “I’m so lucky to serve a community I care for so much.”

Idalis French: A Passion for Uplifting Others
Idalis French was selected for the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award for her work mentoring young girls in the Durham, N.C. community.

Since her first year on campus, French devoted time and energy to The Girls’ Club, a mentorship organization at the Emily K Center for middle school girls attending Durham Public Schools. French served as a mentor, vice president of recruitment and president for the organization. She led weekly sessions about mental health, female empowerment and confidence.

this photo shows Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award winner Idalis French

Duke Provost Sally Kornbluth (left) presents the 2019 Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award to Idalis French. (Photo by Les Todd)

“She shows a natural inclination toward selflessness, empathy and understanding with mentees and mentors alike,” wrote nominator Madeline Farber, a Duke clinical psychology Ph.D. student. “To see a woman of her age with such fervent passion for uplifting others is quite remarkable.”

French also volunteered with the Durham Nursing & Rehabilitation Center, where she kept residents company in their rooms, played bingo with them and facilitated arts and crafts.

“There are not enough words to express my gratitude,” French said. “To know that I’m leaving Duke with the impact I intended to leave it with freshman year is so inspiring and such a great blessing.”

Moreen Njoroge: From Carolina to Kenya

Duke’s Sullivan Award committee chose senior Moreen Njoroge for her work across disciplines and continents.

Njoroge majored in evolutionary anthropology major with minors in chemistry and global health. She has studied in Spain, India and Kenya. In Kenya, Njoroge worked with village chiefs, community health workers and hospital administrators to analyze what causes women to not receive treatment for cervical cancer.

Related: Sullivan Award winner overcame poverty, racism to earn National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship

this photo shows Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award winner Moreen Njoroge

Duke Provost Sally Kornbluth (left) presents the university’s Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award to Moreen Njoroge. (Photo by Les Todd)

“Moreen is experienced, focused, determined and self-directed. She sets high standards for her work and constantly meets them,” wrote nominator Colleen Scott, director of Duke’s Baldwin Scholars Program. “She is eager to have a better understanding of health needs in underserved regions and populations and will not be satisfied with simply possessing this knowledge.”

For two years Njoroge worked as an English and mathematics tutor for refugee students in the America Reads/America Counts program. She was also an Alice M. Baldwin Scholar, a program that supports undergraduate women at Duke to become engaged, confident and connected leaders to the community.

“This award may have my name on it, but it belongs to everybody who has been guiding me on this journey,” Njoroge said. “I’m so grateful for the education I’ve received and the confidence I have gained at Duke.”

This story was adapted from Jonathan Black’s article appearing on the Duke University website and from an October 9, 2019 NPR report.

Furman University Professor Develops Life-Saving Humanitarian Drones

Drones often make the news as weapons of war, terrorism and assassination, but they can save lives, too. Using drones for humanitarian missions is a major goal for Suresh Muthukrishnan, a professor and chair of the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Sullivan Foundation partner school Furman University.

Muthukrishnan is also the director of the GIS and Remote Sensing Center. He studies geospatial technologies—including geographic information systems (GIS), satellite images and drones—to learn how they can be used to address social issues. He spoke about drone technology’s potential to meet global challenges at the Furman Innovation and Entrepreneurship/i4Series networking event on Oct. 1.

As a Fulbright U.S. Scholar from 2017 to 2018 in Malawi, Africa, Muthukrishnan worked on bringing drones and GIS together to identify hotspots for cholera outbreaks. Malawi also has a humanitarian drone testing corridor, which is exploring how drone technologies can benefit the public.

this photo shows a humanitarian drone in action at Furman University

A drone hovers during the Furman Innovation and Entrepreneurship/i4Series networking event on October 1 at Paladin Stadium.

Muthukrishnan is currently partnering with UNICEF and Virginia Tech to design and implement the African Drone and Data Academy in Malawi. The goal of the academy is to teach local students and professionals to build low-cost humanitarian drones and train them with data analysis skills to use the drones for a variety of applications that assist the government and local communities.

In January 2018, a drone designed at Virginia Tech and built by Malawian students passed a key test—a simulated drug delivery flight over a distance of 19 kilometers. According to a blog penned by Dr. Michael Scheibenrief for UNICEF, scientists and engineers involved in the test hope to use drones for delivery of emergency medical supplies, vaccines and sample deliveries for diagnosis.

The research conducted at the drone testing corridor can also help boost the Malawian economy, according to Scheibenrief. “Global companies that participate … will also be required to spend time training and working with local students, engineers and entrepreneurs and sharing the skills and opportunities that this emerging industry provides,” he wrote. “This skill-sharing will ensure that not only are technologies tested in Malawi, but that those tests develop a workforce that can pilot, service and utilize this technology in the future.”

During his Oct. 1 presentation at Furman, Muthukrishnan encouraged local business leaders and drone enthusiasts to use their expertise and drone licenses to make a positive social impact. According to a Furman University press release, he outlined several global priorities in drone services and business opportunities:

  • Using drones for global health and supply-chain management, such as supplying medicine, vaccines, blood samples for testing or blood for transfusions from urban centers and labs to remote villages that lack proper transportation or medical analytical facilities.
  • Employing drones for emergency response, disaster response and disaster recovery to reach areas that are totally disconnected from the rest of the world due to damaged transportation networks. Drones can help carry out on-demand surveys and locate people who need help, provide critical supplies for stranded people, and help map the terrain in 3D for logistics teams to use.
  • Creating a drone ecosystem that integrates teaching, training, local capacity building, applications and sustainability. This will create a professional network of companies, donors, non-governmental organizations, communities, workers and government entities making best use of the technologies available and enhancing business opportunities.

This story was adapted from the original article by Katherine Boda on the Furman University website.

Social Enterprise Trains Blind Women to Detect Early Signs of Cancer

An innovative social enterprise in Germany uses visually impaired women to detect early signs of cancer through their enhanced sense of touch. Founded by gynecologist Frank Hoffman, Discovering Hands provides jobs for blind and visually impaired people and helps them turn their disability into a marketable skill that also saves lives.

Hoffman’s team trains Medical Tactile Examiners (MTEs) to carry out physical breast examinations for early detection of tumors. According to the company’s website, MTEs can “feel about 30 percent more tissue changes than doctors,” identifying tiny tumors and improving breast cancer patients’ survival rates substantially.

“Blind and partially sighted women have a special gift: a superior sense of touch,” the website states. After a nine-month training program, these MTEs “use their outstanding abilities to discover even very small changes in the breast tissue at an early stage.” The MTEs do not take the place of physicians and don’t diagnose directly; rather, they assist the doctors by lending their enhanced tactile sensitivity to the examination process.

this photo shows a medical tactile examiner learning to use braille strips to identify spots where tumors are found

Medical tactile examiners often work with braille strips to help pinpoint the location of breast cancer tumors.

According to the Global Journal, one study found that these examiners (also called Clinical Breast Examiners) “have an approximately 50 percent better rate of overall detection than doctors and an improvement of approximately 30 percent when it comes to [detecting] smaller tissue alterations in the breast.”

Use of the technique has expanded to health centers in Colombia and Mexico. In a May 2019 story, The Guardian reported on an MTE, Francia Papamija, who conducts breast examinations at the La Rivera health clinic in Cali, Columbia. Papamija started progressively losing her vision as a child due to a detached retina. Now she conducts about 10 breast examinations a day at La Rivera. “Using her fingertips, Papamija explores a woman’s breasts, underarms and neck during a 45-minute examination,” the article explains. “She is guided by five adhesive strips marked in Braille, so wherever she finds a lump she can report to the doctor its exact location. No centimeter will be ignored.” Papamija passes her findings on to the doctor, who arranges more tests.

“They [the MTEs] have this gift in their fingers,” Dr. Luis Alberto Olave, who runs the program at La Rivera, told The Guardian. “If they are trained, their disability can become a talent, a strength, and can be used for helping other people. Nodules are the first cancer symptom. The faster we find them, the faster we will have an impact on the projection of the illness, and that may mean saving lives.”

this photo shows the training process for a medical tactile examiner

A tactile examination performed by a highly trained blind or visually impaired person can better detect possible tumors.

The technique is especially useful in Colombia. The county has a lower breast cancer rate than many developed countries, “but we have a huge disadvantage,” Olave said. “We are failing on early detection.”

Leidy Garcia, a visually impaired MTE at another Cali clinic, has examined more than 2,500 patients, according to The Guardian. After the trauma of losing her sight, her job as an MTE has been empowering, she said. “This job gives me huge self-confidence,” she said. “Now I feel free, independent and useful. I can contribute to the community.”

“For people with disabilities, it’s so hard to find a job because of bias and boundaries inside companies, so this is a great opportunity based on our talent,” she added. “It’s also a good way to change the mindset of society, which usually patronizes blind people, thinking we are not able to do many things.”

Mercer University Grad Focuses on HIV Prevention in Peace Corps Work

By Jennifer Borage

One year after graduating from Sullivan Foundation partner school Mercer University, Kayla Beasley is making an impact in Uganda as a Peace Corps volunteer.

Her work mainly focuses on HIV prevention among youth, adolescent girls and young women. But it’s wide-ranging, also touching on maternal and child health; water, hygiene and sanitation; and malaria prevention. “Every day is different, and each day brings something new to learn or teach,” said Beasley, who earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in 2018 majoring in global health studies with a double-minor in global development studies and history.

Beasley works with the Makerere University Walter Reed Project, a nongovernmental organization focused on HIV research and prevention in Uganda. She’s mainly working on two projects in support of the group—implementing the Grassroots Soccer program at primary and secondary schools and giving lessons as part of the DREAMS program.

Grassroots Soccer is an adolescent health group that uses soccer to educate and inspire youth to overcome health challenges. “It is a fun and interactive way to engage youth in HIV prevention and malaria prevention,” Beasley said.

DREAMS, which stands for Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-free, Mentored and Safe Women, aims to reduce HIV infection among adolescent girls and young women in sub-Saharan African countries. About 1.3 million adults are living with HIV in Uganda, and women are disproportionately affected, according to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, known as UNAIDS, which leads the global effort to end AIDS as a public health threat.

Over 59% of infected adults are women, according to UNAIDS, and new HIV infections among young women, ages 15-24, were more than double those among young men.

As part of the DREAMS program, Beasley gives lessons on sexual reproductive health, which oftentimes include discussing maternal and child health. She also teaches girls how to make reusable menstrual pads as a way of empowering them to not be embarrassed by menstruation. Embarrassment often leads to girls missing school and feeling ostracized in their communities, Beasley said.

Making the pads is also used as an income-generating activity and leads to discussions about water, hygiene and sanitation, which is essential to prevent infections and diseases, she said.

Beasley lives in Central Uganda in a district called Kayunga about 50 miles northeast of Kampala, the country’s capital. Every region of Uganda is distinct, she said, which makes traveling in her free time enjoyable. “Every region has different tribes which speak different languages, so you get to experience a variety of cultures in just one country,” Beasley said.

Beasley said her biggest challenge has been learning to take one day at a time. “Throughout Peace Corps service, there are specific points in service when volunteers are usually in a high point or low point in their service,” she said. “But what many people fail to understand is that … you have several highs and lows in just a single day. I am constantly reminding myself to keep putting myself out there because even if I can’t see it now, I am impacting someone’s life in some way or fashion by just showing up and being there.”

Beasley said her time at Mercer prepared her for the Peace Corps experience by giving her an understanding of the universal problems faced around the world, especially in developing countries, and how developed countries have contributed to and perpetuated those issues. The university also taught her how to “effectively, respectfully and positively contribute to the uplifting and development of those countries,” she said.

She said she’s grateful to her professors “for everything they taught me over my four years at Mercer and the tools and knowledge that they knowingly and unknowingly imparted on me, which have not only impacted my life but also the lives of the people I work with every day in my community.”

This story originally appeared on the Mercer University website.

Meet the Ignite Retreat Coaches: Ajax Jackson Teaches Yoga as a Technology for Life Transformation

The internet abounds with apps and tools for yoga practitioners, but Ajax Jackson, owner of Magnolia Yoga Studio in New Orleans and a coach at the upcoming Sullivan Foundation’s Fall 2019 Ignite Retreat, knows yoga itself is a technology—one that has been delivering results for more than 5,000 years.

Although viewed by most as a spiritual practice, yoga, Jackson says, is also “an ancient technology still relevant for our modern-day ills. It’s a technology focused on the mind and body. Think about it: Humans have been using tools for a long time. In fact, we have progressed so much because of tools. Yoga should be used and viewed in the same way. Life is considered a process, and yoga prepares us for this process called life.”

Related: Learn more about the Fall Ignite Retreat, Oct. 18-20, in Asheville, N.C.

Many in the medical field agree. “Along with offering direct health benefits, the various yoga tools—including the physical postures, breathing techniques and meditation—are part of a systematic technology for life transformation, a step-by-step method for changing bad habits,” notes Dr. Timothy McCall, a physician and the medical editor of Yoga Journal.

this photo captures both the spirit of New Orleans and Ajax Jackson's colorful personality

Ajax Jackson, owner of Magnolia Yoga Studio in New Orleans, said she will serve as a “living, breathing case-study coach” at the Fall 2019 Ignite Retreat.

Jackson founded New Orleans’ first black-owned yoga studio because she wanted to teach others to make this proven technology work for them. With a background in socio-cultural anthropology, education and the nonprofit sector, she said, “I have been in the business of understanding, educating and caring for people most of my adult life.”

She opened Magnolia Yoga after receiving her own “life tune-up” through yoga. “I decided to study the technology formally with a world-renowned yoga teacher, training to open a studio to make a living doing what I love while supporting people’s healing and development of self. With this plan, I knew I could help transform the world!”

Magnolia Yoga offers private instruction for individuals as well as group classes and corporate yoga for businesses looking to improve workplace morale, increase productivity and encourage teamwork. Offering classes seven days a week, the studio is only closed on Christmas Day, Jackson said.

Related: View a pictorial of the Sullivan Foundation’s Spring 2019 Ignite Retreat

“We have become a beacon of light for New Orleans residents, locals, natives, transplants and all of her international visitors,” Jackson said. “The city at large and our surrounding area have never seen a business like ours before, and because of that and the positive impact and influence of the work, we are considered a gem!”

this photo depicts the healing nature of one of Ajax Jackson's yoga classes

For individuals taking Ajax Jackson’s classes, yoga is both a spiritual practice and a technology that promotes healing and self-improvement.

For Jackson, every new challenge is an opportunity to learn and improve herself, and the upcoming Ignite Retreat will be no different. “Participating in the Ignite Retreat allows me to focus on several areas of my own education and professionalism that need development while I share and cultivate with others,” she said. “I want to serve and learn from our younger generations as well as teach them the value of self-care and radical self-development through yoga and meditation.”

Jackson said she will serve as “a living, breathing case-study coach” for students at the Ignite Retreat and share her own experiences as an entrepreneur with a strong focus on helping others. She will also lead a yoga class for interested participants.

“I think having coaches accessible in this format is brilliant and a great model for other organizations to consider using,” she said. “With hope and inspiration, I plan on weaving in themes and teachings that correlate with and complement the Ignite Retreat’s mission.”

The Fall Ignite Retreat will be held Oct. 18-20 in Asheville, N.C., and features workshops and seminars led by dynamic facilitators, speakers and social entrepreneurs from around the U.S. Click here for more information or to register to attend.

this photo demonstrates a yoga pose taught in Ajax Jackson's class

“We are in a hard-fought moment right now where much of our hard work on all fronts is paying off,” Jackson said. “I’m very proud of this moment because I just put my head down and worked for it. I just happened to look up and realized we actually made it out of the swamp!”

Students at Berry College Preserve Elderly Patients’ Memories in Heirloom Books

Spending an afternoon in Adult Day Health at Mercy Care, a clinic for aging adults in Rome, Ga., you might hear any number of stories and nuggets of life wisdom – as diverse as the people sharing them. Though the nostalgia of seniors is often heard and forgotten, students at Sullivan Foundation partner school Berry College have made an effort to change that.

Twice a year since 2017, students from the Psychology of Adulthood and Aging class at Berry have gathered at Mercy Care to work on preserving those stories that would otherwise be lost.

Assistant Professor of Psychology Casey Dexter  teaches the class and introduced this project two years ago. “I needed to find a hook for students, a way to teach them empathy and a desire to better understand the aging process,” Dexter said. “What developed was a bi-annual class project to record and share the life stories of those in Adult Day Health at Mercy Care. It underlines how storytelling and cross-generational interaction serve as a socio-cognitive therapy for those struggling with memory loss.”

Related: Lees-McRae College Art Students Brighten Children’s Home With Colorful Murals

Students partner with Adult Day Health patients in small groups to interview them about their lives. They ask questions about childhood and adulthood’s highs and lows and collect life wisdom. Students search for significant themes and ways to organize these stories before finally weaving them into short memoirs for patients and families to keep. This past year, 40 students participated in the project, creating 18 individual life story books.

One Berry student, Callie Whitesell, wrote the biography of Dorothy Gray. Her story ranged from vivid memories of leaves changing in her childhood to sweeping insights about pursuing higher education and a career. Her book is packed with surprise experiences that pushed her out of her comfort zone and beyond her shyness to forge lifelong, international friendships.

“She told me to never give up,” Whitesell reflected. “Dorothy’s work was very important to her, and it took her a while to succeed. Her mother’s schooling had been influential on her, and she told me to keep persevering as a student myself.”

Stories like Gray’s, which recount efforts, struggles and lifetime achievements, characterize the diverse library Mercy Care now has. As a byproduct, the interviews behind the books allow students to engage with their elders in a meaningful way.

Related: University of the Cumberlands Students Fill Backpacks With Food for Hungry Kids

“Ultimately, these projects benefit more than just the patient,” said Dexter. Students say the project adds dimension to their study of psychology and healthcare and creates greater empathy for what the aging clients are going through.

“Getting to talk to someone about their experiences makes what we’re learning whole,” Whitesell explained. “And on the flip side, it’s great for the people we interview to go through their life again, build satisfaction from reflection, and walk away with their life story book.”

These books become even more valuable toward the end of life. Dexter reported that with the passing of one patient, they received requests for several more copies to be distributed in their memory.

“They become a precious family heirloom,” he said. Undoubtedly, the stories and wisdom immortalized through these books will be cherished by patients, families and the students that made them possible for years to come.

This story was edited slightly from an article on the Berry College website.

Related: Born to Heal: Bradley Firchow Earns the Sullivan Award at Oglethorpe University