Teen inspired by childhood to help fight polio
by Staff Writer
When Lake Norman Charter 10th-grader Sravya Uppalapati was a young child living in Hydrabad, India, she saw her grandfather tend to crippled and sickly polio patients, many too poor to pay for medical care.
Years later, those images from her past have driven her to raise $1,165 to help eradicate polio in countries still suffering from the disease.
“The disease is highly infectious and quickly becomes paralysis,” Sravya said. “I’ve seen cases of polio when I’ve lived in and visited India and I know that it is a real problem.”
Sravya enlisted the help of her pre-med club, along with the school’s Interact Club, a group focused on bringing students’ attention to international issues. She gave presentations about the disease to individual classrooms and provided cupcakes and treats as donation incentives. All funds were given to the Rotary’s Polio Plus fund, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation matched the amount raised by the school.
She said many of her classmates were unfamiliar with the disease and its symptoms, which include paralysis, meningitis, muscle stiffness, headaches and vomiting.
“I told them that every single one of them has had the polio vaccine, since it’s required for students to be able to attend school,” Sravya said. “I found a lot of students didn’t know about the disease that they have been vaccinated against.”
The World Health Organization recently released a report that eradication efforts have successfully eliminated the disease in all but four countries – Afghanistan, Nigeria, Pakistan and India – Sravya said. During the past year, India reported no polio cases, she said, but the country must remain polio free for three years before the World Health Organization takes it off the list. Because the disease is still present in these countries, the U.S must still spend millions of dollars to contain the disease.
“It’s 99 percent eradicated,” Sravya said. “We are fighting for that one percent.”
Sravya’s efforts have left a lasting impression with her teachers and school administrators, especially Spanish teacher Cynthia Kmidowski who also serves as an advisor to the Interact Club.
“It was absolutely her idea from start to finish,” Kmidowski said. “She came to me with the idea and she had every detail down from A to Z.”
In addition to this service project, the young aspiring doctor volunteers at Presbyterian Hospital in Huntersville, where she shadows doctors while helping out nurses and patients. Sravya said watching her grandfather, Dr. Janadhana Rao, take care of patients in India inspired her to pursue a career path in the medical field.
“I grew up with (my grandfather) in India and I would see the way his patients would look at him. He gave a lot of free treatment to his patients that could not afford it,” Sravya said. “I really like the idea of helping someone in need.”
The Charlotte teen is the daughter of Venu and Sri Uppalapati. She also was named to the Southern Piedmont 1A/2AWomen’s Tennis All-Conference for 2011.