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Bard Features

Tracing Leprosy: Daniela Rose Anderson ’12

Daniela Rose Anderson ’12
In the Bardian

Speaking on her mobile phone from Uttar Pradesh, India, Daniela Rose Anderson ’12 emanates an uncommon sense of self-possession. Even from such a distance, with a patchy telephone connection and the hustle and bustle of street noise in the background, her courage, seriousness, and desire to help others comes through as crystal clear. “Leprosy in India is more significant and expensive than the government is willing to admit. There is a lot of concealment of the disease. I want to do something about all these problems, but everyone in the field says ‘don’t bother,’” says Anderson. “I want to contact Margaret Chan, head of the World Health Organization, in China and urge the WHO to do follow-up census reports; to change the eradication status. I know there is a lot of red tape, and nothing is black or white, but I want to have a big voice.”

Funded by the prestigious national Thomas J. Watson Fellowship, Anderson is in the midst of a yearlong odyssey, tracing the path of leprosy where it is most prevalent around the globe. As a Watson Fellow, Anderson receives a stipend of $25,000 for 12 months of travel and independent study. “I am looking at the disease, how it is treated and how local and cultural interpretations compare to the biomedical understanding. This is important because leprosy is a disease that requires a lot of self-care. You have to be very vigilant with yourself. I’m trying to see what kinds of tools are most efficient at helping patients help themselves. How are these different in different places around the world?”

Growing up in Silver Spring, Maryland, Anderson knew she wanted to become a doctor when she was 9 years old. It wasn’t until the year before she came to Bard, however, that fighting leprosy became a personal mission. She traveled to Nepal during high school and ended up volunteering at a clinic in what is now a leprosy eco-village founded by the Kevin Rohan Memorial Eco Foundation. At Bard, Anderson started a Trustee Leader Scholar project, the Bard Leprosy Relief Project, which educates about the disease, sends Bard students to work in the Nepalese eco-village, and organizes benefits for the cause. In summer 2010, Anderson biked across the United States to raise funds and awareness for leprosy. She also designed and organized a library-building project in the eco-village.

Anderson’s first stop on her Watson journey was Switzerland, where she researched ideas on alternative pain management at two famous sites: the Lukas clinic and the Ita Wegman clinic. In August, she flew to India, where she was in residence for five months at the Leprosy Mission Hospital in Naini. For the first six weeks she was on rotation, working two-hour shifts in each department, including the lab, medical ward, and pre- and postsurgical physiotherapy. Soon she became part of the hospital network with her own office for screening and diagnosing patients and writing up their reports for the doctors. “The hospital cares for 150 inpatients and gets up to 500 outpatients a day. So my volunteer work really helped,” Anderson says. “However, every Friday, I observed and assisted in the surgery—took skin grafts, sutured skin, cut bones and tendons. The surgeon believed it would be a great learning experience.”

A biology major with a focus in biomedical studies, Anderson won several academic honors including the George I. Alden Scholarship, Alumni/ae Scholarship, and William J. Lockwood Prize at Bard. She also found time to keep up with her other passion—music—and studied piano with artist in residence Blair McMillen. In India, when she was not working at the hospital, she shared her love of music through piano lessons she gave to children suffering from leprosy. “Leprosy is a disease that affects a lot of kids,” Anderson explains. “I’ve met a lot who have had to drop out of school. Kids who are really smart, but are not allowed to be in school anymore. Girls won’t be able to marry. The boys worry about how they will work.” It’s tough, Anderson admits, but the up side is that children respond well to physical and occupational therapies—including those piano lessons. Anderson also organized a hospital shop where patients sell their handicrafts. “It’s a venue for empowerment—inspired by the eco-village in Nepal,” she says.

In December, Anderson flew to Madagascar, where she is working with a physician mentor on the remote northeastern coast. “I’m interested in how leprosy is interpreted really far away from civilization,” says Anderson. “I want to see what kind of care exists in very remote places. My project aims to research different kinds of leprosy care.” Unable to enter the country without an outgoing air ticket, Anderson has booked her next destination: Uganda. After that, Ethiopia, Thailand, or Brazil. “I’m keeping it free,” says Anderson, who is solely responsible for creating her itinerary and making contacts in her countries of choice. “Part of the wonderful thing about the Watson is the ultimate freedom it affords.”

Despite her focus on helping others, Anderson admits to being homesick at times. “I’ve been horrible about writing letters home,” she confesses. She does, however, keep detailed records of her Watson project. “There are so many different places I’m documenting my experiences,” she reports. “My camera, visual records, a personal journal, notes for the Watson quarterly and final reports, a blog. And for every patient I see, I write a note, so I have pages and pages of medical notes.”

Anderson is applying to medical schools from abroad this spring. The Mayo Medical School, part of the Mayo Clinic, appeals most to her because she can envision continuing her work with leprosy around the world as part of her studies there. Wherever she goes, Anderson will fight for a “big voice” on behalf of those who are suffering. As she wrote in a November blog entry from India: “I am young, resourceful, stubborn, and I am here.”

To follow Daniela Rose Anderson’s journey, visit her blog: http://tracingleprosy.wordpress.com/.

Read the spring 2013 issue of the Bardian:

Post Date: 07-09-2013