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Juniata Students Complete Internships with Gift of Life Donor Program

The internship is funded by the Howard M. and Lizabeth A. Nathan Scholarship and Gift of Life Transplant Foundation. 

HUNTINGDON and PHILADELPHIA, PA. — Since the landmark achievement of the first successful kidney transplant in 1954 and the first heart transplant in 1967, the landscape of medicine underwent a transformative shift, as organ and tissue donation emerged as a pivotal force in expanding treatment possibilities. This pioneering breakthrough offered renewed hope and extended life to individuals facing once-fatal conditions. Gift of Life Donor Program, headquartered in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, played an integral role in this realm since 1974, coordinating over 59,000 organs for transplantation and facilitating more than two million tissue transplants, positioning itself as a national leader in organ donation. 

Juniata College students Rachael Triglia ’24, of Graniteville, CA., and Francesca McClure ’24, of Lancaster, PA., both aspiring medical practitioners, spent a portion of their summer at the forefront of medical advancement through internships with Gift of Life Donor Program, headquartered in Philadelphia.  

“I believe it is important that students in the health sciences are exposed to the field of organ and tissue donation and transplantation. It combines not only cutting-edge therapies, research, and surgery but also our human compassion for one another”, said Howard Nathan ’75, executive director of Gift of Life Transplant Foundation. This 10-week summer internship at Gift of Life exposes these students to life and death decision-making in real-time, with professional team members dedicated to ‘giving life a second chance, 24/7’.

Howard Nathan, left, and Rachael Triglia

Triglia is studying neuroscience/pre-medicine, intending to attend medical school and become a neurosurgeon.  

“Our specific research project focused on accumulating and analyzing data for Gift of Life to use in the future to help them understand the differences in the cost of transporting organs before and after a national policy change,” said Triglia. “I learned so much about medicine, people, families, how to have difficult conversations, and the positive results of such complex work, and through the classes taken, I learned about different aspects of the human body and medicine.”

She describes the experience as invaluable to her career development as a future compassionate and educated healthcare provider.  

Howard Nathan, left, and Francesca McClure.

McClure is studying biochemistry/pre-medicine with a secondary emphasis in Spanish. Her career goal is to attend medical school and become a trauma surgeon.  

“I looked at the differences in allocation and transportation costs of donor kidneys and lungs for transplantation after a major policy change in how the allocation of organs works. This project allowed me to explore more about the impact of policy change on finances for a non-profit organization like Gift of Life”, McClure said. “I also learned more about creating effective graphs and completing data analysis, which I had not done on a large scale before.”

McClure shared that the highlight of her experience was the privilege of meeting a gentleman who was returning home after more than one year of waiting for a transplant and subsequent surgery. At age 74, he was one of the oldest recipients in Philadelphia transplant history. McClure witnessed him ringing the “Chimes of Hope” at Howie’s House, symbolizing his return to good health.

“I was so honored to be able to be a little part of his journey,” she said. “This was by far the best experience of my internship.”

“The interns study the complex practices and procedures of organ donation and transplantation and then complete a capstone research project,” Nathan said. “While organ donation and transplantation may not be something that they pursue as a career opportunity, it is beneficial for those aspiring to a career in medicine to experience these unique situations that are not otherwise available in their undergraduate education.”

The internship, founded in 2021, is funded by the Howard M. ’75 and Lizabeth A. Nathan Scholarship and Gift of Life Transplant Foundation. 

While studying at Juniata, I completed several summer internships at a hospital in my hometown of Johnstown, PA. This exposed me to the clinical aspects of healthcare and, more importantly, highlighted the importance of patient and family communications with healthcare professionals, which stuck with me throughout my entire career,” said Nathan. “It is for this reason that my wife, Liz, and I decided to fund the Juniata Internship at Gift of Life, which our Transplant Foundation then matched. I am very proud of the Juniata interns who excelled at Gift of Life the past two summers. I appreciate the partnership with Juniata College in offering this internship to many more students in the future.”

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