Having a Heart: JWU PA Students Raise Funds to Fight Cardiovascular Disease

Each April, students in JWU’s Physician Assistant Studies program are typically found memorizing medical terminology and prepping for anatomy and physiology labs. On April 28, they pressed pause on their studies to make a difference for patients and families fighting cardiovascular disease.

“All of us want to be healthcare providers, and that comes with a commitment to service in some regard,” Suriya Sridaran ’24 said. Sridaran led his cohort in a community service celebration, organizing a “Facing Heart-Versity Together” event that brought more than 100 people into JWU’s Pepsi Forum to bring awareness to heart failure while raising money for a local organization with an aligning mission.

“Our class voted on a charitable mission at the start of the year and decided we wanted to target cardiovascular disease,” Sridaran said. Enter the Heart Brothers Foundation: a 501c3 non-profit dedicated to providing health, hope, financial grants and counseling to patients anticipating and going through a heart transplant.

“I’m just blown away by everything they’re doing.” Calum MacRae, MD, Ph.D. professor of medicine at Harvard University and cardiologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital

“Our primary goal was to raise as much money as we could for Heart Brothers,” Sridaran explained.

Mike Ashworth (left) and JWU PA student Suriya Sridaran ’24 at the April 28 Heart Brothers Foundation fundraiser.

Mike Ashworth (left) and JWU PA student Suriya Sridaran '24 at the April 28 Heart Brothers Foundation fundraiser.

With an initial goal of $5,000, he and his classmates were blown away by the result – right around $12,000 to help the New England-based heart failure awareness group, which also provides temporary housing to families of heart failure patients.

“We’re essentially giving 200 families a room to stay closer to their loved ones,” Sridaran said.

Among the compelling conversation and dinner donated by Providence restaurant East Side Pockets was a sense of gratitude and community. People across the university attended to hear from keynote speakers like cardiologist Calum MacRae, MD, Ph.D., with Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and to celebrate the completely student-driven event.

“I’m just blown away by everything they’re doing,” Dr. MacRae, also a professor of medicine at Harvard University, shared prior to his speech. “The rigor of their training and their deep engagement – they’re not just checking boxes, they want to actually make a difference.”

The night also included an award dedicated to George Bottomley, PA-C, who led the effort in the early 2010s to implement Rhode Island’s first PA program right here at Johnson & Wales. Bottomley accepted his award which was a plaque honoring his work as well as the official name change of the student society to “The Dr. George Bottomley Physician Assistant Student Society”.

“This is the most impressive thing I’ve seen out of a class in a long time,” PA Program Director Thomas Meehan, Ph.D, PA-C, said.

While the PA Student Society picks a charitable organization every year to support, this was the first event students held in which all funds went directly to the foundation of choice. Heart Brothers Director Mike Ashworth, a former heart transplant recipient himself, explained how the funding goes even further this year following changes in the pharmaceutical industry.

“You can get lost in school sometimes, it’s a pretty rigorous curriculum,” Sridaran said. “I’d be hard-pressed to say there are a lot of grad programs out there that move at the pace we do, so I think it’s just another testament to how dedicated we are to not just talking the talk but walking the walk.

Also in attendance at the event were sponsors Lifespan, Rhode Island Academy of Physician Assistants, Residential Properties Ltd., and Alnylam Pharmaceuticals.