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Upstate student-run foot care clinics at local human service agency win national award

Foot care clinic team

SYRACUSE, N.Y.-- Helping Hands for Forgotten Feet, a community service project begun last summer by two students at Upstate Medical University’s College of Medicine, has been awarded a $9,000 grant from the national medical honor society, Alpha Omega Alpha (AOA). It is one of only three programs nationwide to receive the AOA award.

The project consists of shoe drives, monthly foot care clinics and ongoing foot care education programs at the Rescue Mission in downtown Syracuse. It began when first-year medical students Matt Helm and Stefanos Haddad volunteered at the Rescue Mission last summer through Upstate’s Center for Civic Engagement.

“The project has been such a blessing,” says Helm, “and all of the teachers and students involved have been extremely helpful. The Rescue Mission staff has been extremely accommodating. Something interesting about receiving the award is that we found out that we won it on the way back from our first clinic.”

“When Matt and I first came to Syracuse,” says Haddad, “we really wanted to find a way to do something good for our community. And what better way is there to help out than to do something for those less fortunate than you. After our first foot clinic, I see that all the hard work we put in was more than worth it because all the patients we tended to at the Helping Hands for Forgotten Feet Clinic not just needed our services but were deeply appreciative of what we were doing. I believe this new clinic will benefit so many people-- from the ones who receive that care to those who give that care. To be able to spend some time serving others is a heart warming experience.”

Helm and Haddad talked with staff and determined one of the most needed services was a foot care clinic for their clients, especially those suffering from chronic diseases, such as diabetes and heart problems.

“A big problem in the homeless population in Syracuse and around the United States is having foot infections along with inadequate footwear,” said Helm.

Last fall, Helm and Haddad started with a shoe drive and collected 500 pairs, plus 100 pairs of socks and a variety of clothes. The effort earned a $1,000 Roosevelt grant from the Center for Civic Engagement.

Helping Hands for Forgotten Feet also was selected by Upstate’s committee as its submission for an AOA Medical Student Service Leadership grant. Fourth-year students Jessica Sassani and Caitlyn Foote - Upstate’s AOA chapter leaders - wrote the successful grant application.

It included testimonials from physicians helping the students at the Rescue Mission, and from Upstate faculty advisers. Lynn Cleary, M.D., Upstate’s senior associate dean for education, said the proposal “fills a unique, ongoing and unmet need to provide foot care to the homeless of Syracuse.”

The application also included a detailed budget for the monthly foot care clinics, which will require everything from examination tables and chairs to nail clippers and bandages.

The first free clinic at the Rescue Mission was held last month, staffed by 10 medical students and two physicians. Eighteen patients received care and treatment for a variety of foot conditions, and an equal number are expected at this month’s clinic.

A key component of Helping Hands for Forgotten Feet is its long-view approach. As student volunteers progress through medical school, they will enlist first-year medical students to keep the program going.

“The leaders who emerge from these experiences are not only the mentors and role models for the underclassmen but also are equipped to make substantive changes in health care and in health care policies as they go forward in their professional careers,” said Susan Stearns, Ph.D., assistant dean of student affairs and director of the Center for Civic Engagement.

Each year, Alpha Omega Alpha distributes more than $575,000 in grants to medical students and faculty for awards, projects, and prizes that recognize outstanding commitment and dedication to caring for others and providing high quality health care, according to its website.

The other medical schools receiving AOA grants for 2013 are Duke University for its Leadership and Education Development program and Mercer University for its Service Leadership program.

In addition to the AOA grant, Upstate’s Helping Hands for Forgotten Feet has received a pledge for a matching grant up to $5,000 from the Buffalo Medical Group.

Caption: Upstate students with Ryan D’Amico, D.P.M. at the Rescue Mission in Syracuse, where they hold monthly foot clinics. From left, Matt Helm, Siobhan Arey, Caitlyn Foote, Tim Kuchera, Jessica Sassani, Dr. D’Amico, Brandon King, Austin Meeker and Stefanos Haddad.