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A World of Hope

by Rodney Tanaka

November 4, 2008

Read 3 mins

Scholarships provide much more than monetary assistance to students. They offer hope and motivation.

That was the message from Army Maj. Alea Morningstar, DO ’96, who received the Elie Wiesel Humanism in Healing Award at the 2008 A Tribute to Caring gala at the Beverly Hills Hotel and Bungalows on Nov. 1, 2008.

The annual event raises money for student scholarships, and Morningstar said she would not have been able to graduate from the College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific without the financial and morale boost scholarships provide.

“It’s not only the money,” she said. “Someone else you don’t even know believes in you, your goals and your dreams. A scholarship makes dreams a reality.”

Morningstar served as an ER physician and surgeon during three tours of duty in Iraq. As a mobile field surgeon, she ministered to warriors injured by small arms fire, mortars and roadside bombs, she said. As battalion surgeon, she supervised 3,000 detainees’ medical care as well as soldiers and Marines at the infamous Abu Ghraib Prison.

Shrapnel from a roadside bomb caught Maj. Morningstar’s leg and arm, her shoulder was irreparably torn, and multiple blast exposures left her with a traumatic brain injury. She spent 11 months at Walter Reed Army Medical Center before transferring home to Hawaii. Her medical license has been deactivated while she undergoes rehab.

She wants to help soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder, a passion stemming from her osteopathic training and experiences in Iraq, where soldiers came to her to express their emotions during traumatic times in the field.

“They have to let that grief out,” she said. “My DO training at WesternU prepared me for the caregiving I needed to provide in Iraq. I was taught how to reach somebody in pain.”

You learn to touch patients from day one at WesternU, Morningstar said.

“You learn to open your heart,” she said. “You learn to touch. You learn to care.”

The theme of ATC, “One World. One Medicine. One Vision,” celebrated the caring and compassion displayed by WesternU faculty, students and alumni who volunteer around the globe in humanitarian efforts.

Rear Adm. Richard R. Jeffries, DO, served as a special guest presenter and introduced Morningstar. The evening also featured a special presentation by Assemblyman Mervyn Dymally to College of Podiatric Medicine Dean Lawrence Harkless. Frank Mottek, anchor and reporter for KNX 1070 Newsradio and KTLA Channel 5 News@10, served as emcee.

Prior to the banquet and ceremony, guests visited five portals where WesternU faculty, students and alumni talked about their volunteer efforts abroad. Doreen Pon, PharmD, Assistant Professor of Pharmacy Practice and Administration for the College of Pharmacy, and Natalya Karabalin, DO ’12, talked about their trip to Guatemala.

Victoria Graham, DPT, Assistant Professor, Department of Physical Therapy Education, College of Allied Health Professions, and DPT students and graduates Mike Espinosa, Elissa Nelson, Anna Sladkey and Amber Wade talked about their trip to Sinaloa, Mexico.

Ryun Lee, DO ’10, and Brandy Liu, DO ’10, traveled with WesternU’s International Service Club to Peru to volunteer at a local hospital. Kyle Menze, DO ’11, talked about her four-week summer rotation in Spain, part of an exchange program that also brought Spanish students to WesternU.

Jesse Martinez, PharmD, Vice Dean, Academic Diversity and Development, College of Pharmacy, talked about his trip to Sri Lanka in response to the devastating tsunami that struck in December 2004.

Malika Kachani, DVM, PhD, Professor, College of Veterinary Medicine, talked about her work in Morocco with zoonotic diseases, which are diseases spread between animals and humans.

“I had time to explain everything (to guests),” Kachani said. “They were interested to hear my stories.”

She is helping students reach beyond their traditional roles. She has taken DO students to slaughterhouses to learn about diseases in animals, and veterinary medicine students learn about diseases in humans.

“This broadens their horizons,” she said. “In my program, I take students to developing countries to see diseases they would never see in the U.S."


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