Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust Schweitzer Fellow Hagar Abdel-Baky lost a close family friend last year to health complications that developed after the friend broke a hip in a fall. That’s a big part of what motivated Abdel-Baky, a student at the School of Health Sciences at Winston-Salem State University, to expand on a fall prevention program started last year by North Carolina Schweitzer Fellows Charles Mullen and Chelsea Simpkins. Mullen and Simpkins implemented an evidence-based fall prevention program for older adults created by Boston University called A Matter of Balance. The eight-week course consists of two-hour sessions during which participants are given the opportunity to share their fears of falling, as well as the chance to learn simple chair exercises that will increase their muscle tone, balance, strength, and endurance.
Abdel–Baky has partnered with Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust Schweitzer Fellow Luke de Andrade to expand the program, which is offered at Winston-Salem State University Occupational Therapy and the Area Council on Aging. While de Andrade does not have a personal connection to the issue, he became interested in the project when he learned not only how devastating a fall can be to an older adult, but also how prevalent such accidents are. The US Centers for Disease Control estimates that one out of every three adults over age 65 has at least one fall a year.
ASF: Why did you decide to develop your particular project?
Hagar Abdel-Baky: I lost someone very dear to me who passed away last year from a fractured hip that resulted from a fall. Many people in our community loved her and the news devastated our entire family and community. At the time that this happened, I was in the process of applying to the Occupational Therapy program at Winston Salem State University. If I had known about fall prevention before this incident, there may have been a chance that I could have helped her live just a little longer. She was my inspiration and motivation to learn more about fall prevention and the Matter of Balance program.
Luke de Andrade: Classmates of mine were already working on a community health education program focused on preventing falls for presentation to a local senior group. I attended their workshop and was surprised to learn just how many people had already been affected by falls. Although a preventative exercise program at the facility was in place, many of the seniors were experiencing falls caused by improper identification of environmental hazards and failure to use assistive technology, like canes or walkers.
ASF: What do you hope will be the lasting impact of your project on the community it serves?
Luke de Andrade: Hagar and I, along with last year’s Fellows on this project, identified several ways the program could be expanded to meet the current needs of the older adult population in the area. Many seniors find driving a car to be an important part of maintaining their independence. So, we added CarFit, an educational program that helps conform and adjust cars to their older adult drivers—adjustment of mirrors to prevent blind spots and for glare reduction and introduction to AT which might help with safety during the driving experience. It’s our hope that our program will have the last effect of helping the older adults we work with remain independent.
Hagar Abdel-Baky: We’re teaching these classes so our participants can stay safe, reduce their fear of falling, achieve the confidence they need to continue exercising and stay active and healthy. Ideally, they will then share this knowledge with their family and friends so that this information is passed on and benefits the entire community.
ASF: What do you think is the most pressing health-related issue of our time, and how do you think it should be addressed?
Hagar Abdel-Baky: I believe the most pressing health-related issue of our time is poverty. Poverty is an international concern that continues to worsen over time. Unfortunately, those who earn higher incomes often do not help those less fortunate. With power comes corruption, and it seems as though the world is filled with corrupt people. The great thing, however, is that there are also always people who are willing to help try to improve society. The solution isn’t necessarily to even out the income of every individual regardless of their job, but rather to provide a free education beyond high school through college and graduate programs to students who are capable and willing. With knowledge comes wisdom, and with wisdom comes understanding and compassion. If more people become educated, then those who are impoverished will gain experiences and opportunities that were not given to them before. Through these experiences and opportunities, their communities will benefit from their understanding and, over time, the world will have less poverty, and more educated, working people.
Luke de Andrade: The most pressing health-related issue today concerns the logistics needed to bring healthcare to individuals who don’t have resources to pay the expenses involved. This is a monumental task, but money is not the only issue. There is also a need to adjust society’s consciousness about the welfare of others; there is a need for humanity to develop a desire for all living creatures to live without suffering. Through mindfulness, contemplation, and service, Dr. Schweitzer’s vision of a Reverence for Life can be realized, opening the doors to better care for all individuals.
ASF: What has been the most surprising element of your experience as a Schweitzer Fellow?
Hagar Abdel-Baky: Learning what an amazing person Dr. Schweitzer was himself has been both surprising and inspirational. The compassion and kindness he showed others is so heartwarming because few people would have gone to such lengths to help others. Many people become doctors to enjoy a comfortable lifestyle, but Dr. Schweitzer wanted to use his resources and knowledge to help those in Africa. I was also really inspired by how supportive his wife continued to be despite facing huge obstacles such as imprisonment during World War I. I hope others learn about his work and are as motivated by him as I am.
Luke de Andrade: A Schweitzer Fellow networks with others in the health profession and community in order to make a project become reality. The connections I’ve made with others who are making a difference, either through direct health-care-related activities or through simple, compassionate acts have been thoroughly satisfying. It is both humbling and inspiring to see how much good is brought about by people who expect nothing in return and are not celebrated by society.
ASF: What does being a Schweitzer Fellow (and ultimately a Schweitzer Fellow for Life) mean to you?
Hagar Abdel-Baky: I believe that people need continual motivation and inspiration to achieve their best, whether that motivation is internal or external. Being a Fellow for Life will allow me to continuously be in touch with others who are trying to make a difference in the world by bettering it. As a health care professional, our education never stops. The most important thing about being in this field is constantly finding ways to better the lives of our clients and making life easier for them. Being a Fellow for Life will allow me to network with other health care providers to ensure that our clients have an equal opportunity to stay as healthy and active as they can, even if they aren’t financially able to support themselves. Even before applying for this fellowship I knew that I wanted to give back to the community by providing free services to those who need it. Now that I am part of this Fellowship, I also want to help people receive access to free health care in other domains. I hope to be able to impact my community as a whole and continue to provide for those less fortunate.
Luke de Andrade: As a future healthcare professional, I may be at risk to become jaded by the complexity of the medical system or fall victim to compassion fatigue. But, as a Schweitzer Fellow for Life I will have an outlet to network with health professionals concerned about social justice and healthcare equality. In the future, I plan to give back to the organization through mentorship to current Schweitzer Fellows and provide assistance in any future endeavors the organization may develop. In return, I hope my continual work with the Schweitzer Fellowship will energize me to stay true to my highest ethical values and to continue my growth as a compassionate person.
Click here to learn more about the North Carolina Albert Schweitzer Fellows Program and our work to develop leaders, create change, and improve health in vulnerable communities. We are supported entirely by charitable donations and grants.