(Posted September 16, 2022)

From the left, Jacob Sensenig ’23, Howard Nathan ’75, executive director of the Gift of Life Transplant Foundation, and Shawna Cada ’23

From the left, Jacob Sensenig ’23, Howard Nathan ’75, executive director of the Gift of Life Transplant Foundation, and Shawna Cada ’23

HUNTINGDON and PHILADELPHIA, Pa. — Since the first successful kidney transplant in 1954, organ and tissue donation has revolutionized medicine, continually expanding treatment options for once terminal conditions.

Shawna Cada ’23 of Reading, Pa., and Jacob Sensenig ’23 of Hollidaysburg, Pa., both aspiring medical practitioners, spent a portion of their summer at the forefront of medical advancement through an internship 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 the human compassion we have for one another,” said Howard Nathan ’75, executive director of the 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’. ‘

Cada is studying biology/pre-medicine, intending to attend medical school and become a doctor.

“I believe organ donation is a big part of end-of-life care and healthcare,” Cada said. “I worked in the 24 zip codes within Philadelphia with a low authorization rate for donation and at the same time were in the most need of transplants. I was tasked to bridge the gap as to why and how to connect with these communities.”

The experience confirmed her passion for medicine, instilling in her the importance of advocating for the destigmatization of organ donation.

Sensenig is studying biochemistry/pre-med and plans on a career as an orthopedic surgeon following medical school.

“The internship broadened my view of medicine and allowed me to become more comfortable in a hospital setting and operating room,” said Sensenig, who shared that a highlight of the experience was the opportunity to observe a lung, liver, and kidney recovery surgery. “I was able to build strong relationships and connections that will be important in the future.”

Sensenig organized and audited Gift of Life’s archive of specimen samples, and he learned about the organization’s Quality Assurance protocols.

“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.”

Under Nathan’s leadership, Gift of Life has coordinated 55,000 life-saving transplants and more than two million life-enhancing tissue transplant allografts. It is the largest organ donor program in the nation. The internship, founded in 2021, is funded by the Howard M. ’75 and Lizabeth A. Nathan Scholarship and Gift of Life’s Transplant Foundation.

“When I studied 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 have excelled at Gift of Life during the past two summers. I appreciate the partnership with Juniata College in offering this internship to many more students in the future.”

Contact April Feagley at feaglea@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3131 for more information.