Teen honors roots and community with traditional dance and generous donation

The gift of dance became a gift to the Tucson community recently when a local teen selflessly donated proceeds from a time-honored, traditional Indian dance to benefit breast cancer care at TMC.

University High School student, Naina Bhamidipati, honored her passion for her community and her Eastern Indian heritage by raising $5,000 for the TMC Foundation to support breast cancer prevention, treatment and care for women in need.

“I chose to donate to the Women’s Cancer fund at TMC in honor of the people close to me who have been effected by breast cancer,” Naina said.

Since age 5, Naina has been studying and practicing the classical Indian dance known as Bharatanatyam under the tutelage of Guru Kalashri Asha Gopal.

The origins of Bharatanatyam can be traced back to centuries ago in ancient India as a celebration and representation of spiritual ideas and Hindu religious themes.

Bharatanatyam is recognized the world over for its unique style, featuring complex footwork, flexed knees and bent legs while maintaining a straight torso. The hands move gracefully, making sophisticated and meaningful gestures, and all are performed to traditional music.

“The significance of Bharatanatyam to me is an art form that has taught me how to live my life. It taught me to be focused, balanced, and how to always be in control of my life. I learned how to express myself effectively without saying a word,” said Naina. “But most of all, it taught me to accept myself, be proud of myself, and accept the people around me. It has been and always will be an integral part of my life.”

When the instructor, called “guru”, determines the student has mastered the Bharatanatyam, a special ceremony called Arangetram is held to honor the student’s accomplishment.

“I also wanted to raise awareness for such a widespread disease and help families that were going through a difficult time – it was the best present on my Arangetram day,” Naina said.

With 10 years of intense study behind her, Naina has performed in many dance conventions, productions and gatherings, including the North American Telugu Association’s annual convention in Los Angeles.

She also has a deep appreciation for knowledge and community advocacy. Naina volunteers as a teen attorney with the Pima County Teen Court, and serves on the Dusenberry-River Library Teen Advisory Board. She is also a proud member of the leadership council at Be Free Pima – Pima County Community Prevention Coalition, a substance abuse prevention program.

“Helping my society and constantly exploring how I can make life better for people around me is one of my passions, and community advocacy is the first step to being able to do that,” Naina said. “No matter what cause I advocate for, in the end, I always leave with a new community and a new group of people that I will always support and that will always support me. For me, that’s the thrill of it, and I can’t wait to take part in many future endeavors involving community advocacy.”

Tucson Medical Center is pleased to recognize the accomplishments and generosity of this young woman.

“We are simply overcome by Naina Bhamidipati’s thoughtful gift,” said Erika Grasse, director of development for pediatrics. “The resources will provide mammograms for women (over 40) as well as fund breast cancer treatment and care for women who need it most.”

Thank you, Naina Bhamidipati and congratulations on your Arangetram!

For more information about supporting breast cancer patients, please contact the TMC Foundation at (520) 324-3497.

Teenager’s heroic efforts save a fellow student’s life

October 15 was just an ordinary day at University High School until something extraordinary happened.  The marching band was taking a break from a rehearsal when they all lined up for dinner.  Suddenly Chris Miller, a sophomore, collapsed and started seizing.

Everyone froze.  A circle formed around him.  All Erika Yee, a junior, remembers hearing is, “Does anyone know CPR?” 

She did.

In fact, it was very fresh in her mind.  Just four months prior, Erika attended Camp Fury, a Girl Scouts firefighting camp in which she learned compression-only CPR.

Erika admits she didn’t really think about what was happening.  She just sprang into action.  “I raced over to him, and checked for a pulse.  I didn’t feel anything.  He had all the signs of cardiac arrest.”  Erika started chest compressions immediately – a move that ultimately saved his life. 

Janet Studley, a parent volunteer who spent time as a nurse, monitored Chris for a heartbeat, and kept his airway open while Erika continued to pump his chest.  “I was doing compressions for about three minutes, but it felt like 20 minutes,” she recalls.  “Paramedics got there, and took over.  It wasn’t until after Chris was on his way to the hospital that everything really started to sink in.” 

Chris was rushed to TMC, where he remained for the first two days of his treatment.  “When people told me what happened, I was just so grateful to be alive,” he says.

To this day, doctors can’t fully explain why Chris’ heart did what it did.  In the event it happens again, though, a defibrillator that was surgically inserted in his chest will shock his heart into beating again.

Chris says his outlook on life has changed since that day:  “I truly appreciate every day now.  It’s kept me motivated to keep doing what I’m doing.”

The experience has also been life-changing for Erika, who grew up wanting to be a dermatologist.  Her aspiration now?  To become a paramedic.  She says, “The medics who came on scene said if Chris hadn’t gotten those chest compressions, he likely wouldn’t have survived.  I am so grateful for what I learned in Girl Scouts at Camp Fury.  I’m so glad that I have these life-saving skills.”

Debbie Rich, the CEO of Girl Scouts of Southern Arizona, says what Erika did is right in alignment with who she is as a person.  “I am so thankful that she had the leadership skills to take charge of the situation, and she knew what to do.  She told me that the reason she could handle that was because she’s a Girl Scout, and that’s what Girl Scouts do.  I think the Camp Fury experience gave her the skills, and added to her confidence, but I think she is just wired that way because she’s been a Girl Scout since she was 5 years old,” says Rich.

erika yee“I didn’t think what I did was really a big deal, but a lot of people did,” Erika says. 

City of Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild recognized Erika with a copper plaque for her heroic efforts.

How did Chris’ parents thank the young woman who saved his life?

“We just hugged her, and cried, and said ‘thank you.’  We are just so glad she was there.  We just can’t thank her enough.  I’m really glad she is getting recognized,“ says Sarah Ann Miller, Chris’ mom. 

To see the story that appeared in the Arizona Daily Star, click here.  
For more information on the Girl Scout’s Camp Fury, click here.
For a video on how to perform compression only CPR, click here.


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