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A Tribute to Caring

by Rodney Tanaka

October 27, 2008

Read 3 mins

Western University of Health Sciences’ annual gala “A Tribute to Caring” will transport guests around the world, showcasing WesternU’s global humanistic efforts.

“This year we are celebrating the courage, dedication and compassion of all WesternU students, alumni and faculty who valiantly serve our country in the military and volunteer their skills and knowledge to help those affected by natural disasters, disease and poverty,” said WesternU President Philip Pumerantz, PhD. “This annual event ensures that WesternU will continue to produce competent, caring graduates by raising money for student scholarships.”

The gala will be held Nov. 1 at the Beverly Hills Hotel and Bungalows. This year’s theme is “One World. One Medicine. One Vision.” WesternU will honor an alumna who epitomizes service, honor and courage. Army Maj. Alea Morningstar, DO ’96, will receive the Elie Wiesel Humanism in Healing Award 2008 for her dedication and sacrifice while serving as an ER physician and surgeon during three tours of duty in Iraq.

As a mobile field surgeon in Iraq, she ministered to warriors injured by small arms fire, mortars and roadside bombs, Morningstar said. As battalion surgeon, she supervised 3,000 detainees’ medical care as well as soldiers and Marines at the infamous Abu Ghraib Prison. She spent 11 months at Walter Reed Army Medical Center before transfer home to Hawaii. Shrapnel caught her leg and arm, her shoulder was irreparably torn, and multiple blast exposures left her with traumatic brain injury. Her medical license was deactivated while she undergoes rehab.

“I want to work with PTSD and combat stress—which I feel very strongly about, and have worked with in the field,” Morningstar said. “Or, I could try for the Chaplain Corps. This may be the end of my military career with medical retirement. I am on the edge, waiting for the next step. But, it will be an adventure!”

Guests will also meet and interact with WesternU students, faculty and alumni who have traveled around the world to provide medical care and instruction.

Victoria Graham, PT, DPT, OCS, Assistant Professor, Department of Physical Therapy Education, College of Allied Health Professions, took three students with her to Sinaloa, Mexico in June 2008. The trip was organized by LIGA International – The Flying Doctors of Mercy, a philanthropic volunteer organization that has been providing medical, dental and eye care to impoverished people in rural Mexico since 1934.

They offered rehabilitation to people who suffered preventable injuries, such as pedestrians hit by cars and people without seat belts thrown from cars.

Graham had wanted to travel and deliver care abroad for many years, she said.

“I was especially excited to not only do that but share that experience with my students,” she said. “That’s something that brought me to WesternU, the long-range vision to continue to deliver care globally and locally. I look forward to many future opportunities to serve the needs of the less fortunate.”

Jesse Martinez, PharmD, Vice Dean, Academic Diversity and Development, College of Pharmacy, traveled with a team of WesternU students and faculty to Sri Lanka following the devastating tsunami that struck in December 2004.

They arrived seven months after the tsunami and treated a wide range of health problems – upper respiratory tract infections, injuries caused by the tsunami that hadn’t been treated, communal diseases from contaminated water and improper hygiene due to the temporary living conditions and poor sanitation.

The volunteers endured temperatures over 100 degrees and 100 percent humidity.

“At no time did I hear the team complain about the heat while were delivering our medical relief work,” Martinez said.

The team epitomized the interprofessional spirit embraced at WesternU, and students continue to plan humanitarian trips to other countries, Martinez said. He looks forward to sharing his story with ATC guests.

“The important thing for me is for the community to understand that there is a culture on this campus that promotes the humanistic approach to medical care,” he said. “That culture is very unique.”

For more information about A Tribute to Caring, click here:



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