On July 23rd, we honored two Washington, D.C. area students who decided to make a difference on behalf of Veterans. Their  effort? A simple bake sale. Their goal? To help Veterans by raising money for VA Research. Their impact? A story that is certain to inspire us all.

Here’s how it all began.

Last April 27, local fifth-grader Francesca Cetta, accompanied her mother to VA’s Take Your Child to Work Day, which this year coincided with the annual VA Research Week Central Forum. Among the several technical demonstrations at the event was one about the DEKA arm prosthetic. Developed in collaboration with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and DEKA Integrated Solutions, the arm truly is a remarkable achievement. It has a fully functioning hand, and control so precise that users can pluck grapes off a vine, pick up a power tool, or even shake hands.

Francesca and others watching the demonstration saw the latest version of the arm, the Gen3, which is controlled by motion detectors placed on top of each shoe. To demonstrate the arm Veterans Arthur McAuley and Frederick Downs, Jr. joined us. Many of you may know Fred; he is former director of VA’s Prosthetic and Sensory Aids Service. Both gentlemen were very generous with their time; showing the advanced prosthetic’s impressive functionality, and answering numerous questions posed by Research Week attendees. (To see for yourself what the arm can do, watch a video we produced for Research Week.)

Francesca was so moved by what she saw, and by research’s potential to help more Veterans, that she decided to raise funds. That’s when she enlisted her friend Claire Quigley to join in holding a bake sale for VA Research. A few days later, when Francesca’s mother called to tell us about the two students’ efforts, we were moved and wanted to honor them.

It was therefore my great pleasure earlier this week to join with Chief Research and Development Officer, Dr. Joel Kupersmith in the informal recognition ceremony honoring these two students. As I handed Francesca a certificate of recognition, I asked how she came up with the idea of the bake sale, and what in particular about the DEKA arm inspired her to do so? She said, “Many things inspired me to donate to the VA. I saw how Fred and Artie benefited from the DEKA Arm and wanted to be a part of donating to improve Veterans’ lives.” (And in case you were wondering, the money raised by these two students will go toward prosthetics research at the Providence VA Medical Center.)

By taking action to promote VA research, Francesca has joined the ranks of other VA research advocates, including Artie, Fred, and the many Veteran volunteers who give of their time to participate in VA research. We are thrilled that these two students took the time to learn more about VA research, and were spurred to action by it. And if you’d like to learn more about what VA Research is doing for Veterans, please visit the VA Research and Development Web site. There you can learn more about our programs, services and centers of excellence,  read about the wide scope of research projects we support, and sign up for our newsletter VA Research Currents.

Dr. Madhulika Agarwal is the Deputy Under Secretary for Health for Policy and Services for the Department of Veterans Affairs. Her organization’s vision is to lead policy and services development to ensure the best possible health care outcomes for our Nation’s Veterans.

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Published on Aug. 3, 2012

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