The gift of walking

Blacksburg, Va., Nov. 28- Homecoming court: Virginia Tech senior Allison Burns represented Hope to Walk as a queen candidate, finishing second in the voting. Photo: Billy Parvatam

by Billy Parvatam

BLACKSBURG, Va.- A local nonprofit in the New River Valley is working with Virginia Tech students to help others walk again around the world.

Hope to Walk is an organization dedicated to providing affordable prosthetic legs for those in need. Created in 2013 by Phil Johnson and Michael Mabry, the duo was able to create a design that not only was cheaper than standard costs but one that they could give to patients for free.

According to a Jordan Thomas Foundation article, prosthetics can cost thousands of dollars for amputees. Hope to Walk however has been able to make these legs using materials that can be found in a hardware store such as, PVC pipes, wood, and other welding tools. The total cost, as a result, comes out to be around $100. The organization has been able to provide these legs across the globe while also training locals in the community on how to construct them. Countries, where there is a current focus, include Honduras, Guatemala, Haiti, and Vietnam.   

The nonprofit has also made its presence known on Virginia Tech’s campus. Senior Allison Burns represented Hope to Walk on the homecoming court as her platform earlier this semester. Burns, who finished second in the queen voting, said her campaign was unique because people could make a difference “with more than just a vote.” Through selling t-shirts and other donations, the campaign was able to raise $3000 or the equivalent of 30 legs for Hope to Walk.

Although Burns did not become homecoming queen, she believes victory was achieved a different way.

“We totally won in the way we had some many people at Virginia Tech encouraged and wanting to invest in the organization,” she said. “That was my whole heart and vision behind it.”

Burns is not the only student associated with Hope to Walk. Junior Brooke Merryman got involved her freshman year due to her interest in prosthetics and traveled with them to Honduras to help in their ventures. Currently, she is involved in a research project in the mechanical engineering department with the next step being to redesign the prosthetic to fit above the knee amputees, as the organization had to previously turn away such patients because they had not created one yet. According to Merryman, the group will test the knees in Peru in Jan. 2019, and if all goes well Hope to Walk will be able to “take it and run with it.”

Other students will have the opportunity to volunteer with Hope to Walk as well. The organization will partner with Burns in the spring to host a workshop where those who come will help in the construction of the leg.

“We want to be able to bring people together and get them involved,” Burns said. “In turn, we can give back to individuals in need.”



Coming out of the shadows

Blacksburg, Va., Nov. 12- Safe Space: “El Centro” in Squires Student Center provides a location for Tech DREAMers to meet. Photo: Billy Parvatam

by Billy Parvatam

BLACKSBURG, Va.- An organization at Virginia Tech seeks to provide a voice to the voiceless.

Tech DREAMers looks to create a community that is inclusive of undocumented immigrants at the university. In doing so, they hope to educate others on who DREAMers are, what resources are available, and ultimately advocate for immigration reform.

Ivan Vallejos, Tech DREAMers secretary, believes DREAMers need the help because of the sensitive nature in which they are brought up.

“Most undocumented immigrant children are prone to be introverted,” he said. “If you do something wrong with the law, it’s one strike and you’re out.”

One particular focus of the organization has been raising awareness on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). The policy protects undocumented immigrants from deportation and according to Vallejos “allows them to obtain necessities such as a social security number and bank account.” The program faces the threat of being cut under President Trump, but the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals recently blocked his executive order according to a CNN article.

Virginia Tech spoke out against the Trump administration’s attempt to phase out the program last year. President Timothy Sands addressed the community in an open letter expressing support for the DREAMers.

Kathy Loera, a student whose mom at one point was undocumented, asserts that while the university could still do more to help, it is hard “when the community is small.” There are around 40 students currently under DACA and the overall Hispanic population only constitutes to approximately six percent of the population.

Although Tech DREAMers may be small at Virginia Tech, they are not the only one of its kind in Virginia. George Mason and Virginia Commonwealth Universities also have DREAMer-oriented organizations.

“We all communicate with each other,” Vallejos said. “We are in many ways one organization.”

In order to reach common ground with people who may not be in favor of protecting undocumented immigrants, Loera ultimately believes listening is the key to mending differences.

“The person’s heart has to be there,” she said. “They have to listen to and understand each side in order for us to grow as a country.”

Virginia Tech senior Kathy Loera
Tech DREAMers secretary and Virginia Tech sophomore Ivan Vallejos

An ever-changing science

Christiansburg, Va., Sept. 26- Monitor your health: A VCOM student administers a free blood pressure test. The health and wellness fair had cholesterol, sugar, and therapy tests available to visitors. Photo: Billy Parvatam

by Billy Parvatam

BLACKSBURG, Va.- The New River Valley is making a mark on finding innovating ways to improve the realm of public health.

Numerous organizations and individuals in the area conduct research and do outreach to educate residents on staying healthy. Dr. Kerry Redican, a professor in the Virginia Tech College of Veterinary Medicine, helps conduct the Youth Risk Behavior Survey– a biennial study that monitors high school students behaviors especially with substance use and misuse. Topics of research that are emphasized in the survey include marijuana, tobacco, alcohol, and prescription drug abuse. The information is then used to educate school boards, parents, and especially the students on how to best stay away from risky decisions.

Redican believes the time is now for young people to start thinking about their health.

“The under 30 age group tends to feel they’re immortal,” he said. “But the types of behaviors you adopt now will become lifestyles that potentially over time could have a negative effect.”

Focusing on the other side of the spectrum, the 2018 health and wellness fair in Christiansburg provides older citizens an opportunity to learn how to age healthier. The fair, hosted by the Blacksburg chapter of the AARP and the VCOM medical school, saw over 100 exhibitors looking to raise awareness on a variety of topics.

Dr. Pamela Ray, population health community coordinator at the Virginia Department of Health, described these conversations as “getting a sense of their daily life and how much activity they do.” The fair also had various screenings available such as blood pressure and sugar that allowed visitors to get tested for free.

One vendor, the New River Valley Community Service, looks to change the stigma of drug abuse and addiction. According to a WDBJ7 article, in 2017 there were nearly 30 overdose deaths in the NRV.   

One way to potentially combat specifically opioid is through REVIVE! training. According to the Virginia Department of Behavioral and Developmental Services, it provides training on responding to an overdose emergency with a counter drug called Naloxone. The drug, in essence, would cancel out the consequences of an opioid overdose.

Ray, who is also an adjunct professor at Virginia Tech, said that she doesn’t like to get into the game of which drug is more harmful because “any addictive substance produces negative effects.”

While technology is already making tremendous advances in regards to health, Redican sees a day where it will be the widespread approach.

“Your interactions with physicians may be through telemedicine,” he said. “The prevention-related and early detection approaches will become more technological as we can efficiently get patients the information that they need.”

Ultimately, however, Ray believes it is up to each individual to make their health a priority in their life.

“We need to take responsibility for our own health,” she said. “Depending on everyone else to provide health to you if you’re not a willing participant as a recipient gets us nowhere.”