U Student Starts Non-Profit to Improve Global Health, Reduce Waste

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Courtesy of Mohan Sudabattula

Mohan Sudabattula, a University of Utah student triple majoring in biology, philosophy and health and society, is the founder of a non-profit which repurposes used medical devices for low and middle income children abroad — an endeavor he hopes will help kids struggling with health problems who have limited access to care.

“Last spring, I was having an existential crisis with where I was going, what I wanted to do,” Sudabattula told @theU as part of its Humans of the U series earlier this month. “Part of it was that my mental health wasn’t in the best place. I was showing classic symptoms of acute depression, but I had no idea what was going on at the time. It got pretty bad. I would stay in bed, hours would roll by, and I started missing tests and projects. I told myself that I had to find a way to re-inspire myself.”

Ten years before, Sudabattula visited an orphanage in India called the Vegesna Foundation, which housed children who suffered from a variety of serious diseases, but didn’t have access to the medical devices that were needed to treat them. The orphanage is located in Hyderabad, India — India’s fourth largest city with approximately 6.8 million residents. The children at the Vegesna Foundation confront a variety of cognitive impairments, physical disabilities and other special needs. Here, they receive whatever treatment is available and receive an education.

Images and experiences from the orphanage stuck with him, but it wasn’t until he started volunteering at Shriner’s Hospital for Children in Salt Lake City that he came up with the idea for Project Embrace.

Sudabattula volunteered in the Pediatric Prosthetic and Orthotic Services Department of the hospital where he assisted with the construction of a variety of medical braces outfitted for children in need. His favorite thing about Shriner’s was its philosophy — never turn away a child in need. He kept that vision in mind as he went forward with his own non-profit work.

Over time Sudabattula began to notice that, as the kids quickly outgrew the devices, they would return them in perfect condition, but Shriner’s Hospital would then just throw the medical devices away. He remembered the children at the Vegesna Foundation and decided that his new goal would be to get those used, well-kept medical devices to the Indian orphanage.

This past summer, Sudabattula made a trip to visit that same orphanage, spend some quality time with the kids and see exactly what they needed. Sudabattula told @theU that, “In broken Telugu — the dialect that they speak — I’d ask, ‘How would you feel with a new set of crutches?’ They were like, ‘Oh my gosh. That’s so great! I really need it!’”

Project Embrace plays the dual role of helping kids in need while reducing waste by recycling old medical devices that would ordinarily just be thrown away. Such devices include crutches, walkers, slings, braces and orthotic materials.

Sudabattula said Project Embrace really helped put things in perspective for him. Working on this endeavor, combined with meeting with a counselor, helped him to place the depressive symptoms behind him and move forward on a path toward his goals.

c.macdonald@dailyutahchronicle.com

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