By Wendy Sarubbi | December 11, 2012 11:45 am

Medical school is full of challenges, but second-year student Erin Purdy is taking on one more: running a charity to raise $10,000 that will provide vaccinations for 500 children against killer pneumococcal infections.

Combining a love of global mission work and experience in financial management, Erin has established One World Global Health and launched her first project – the Pneumococcal Vaccine Challenge. The effort also has inspired her Focused Individualized Research Experience (FIRE) project.

Erin said 100 percent of the money raised will go to the UN foundation Shot at Life, which will deliver the pneumococcal vaccinations. Each child also will receive vaccinations against measles, rotavirus, and polio.

“I had pneumonia earlier in the year, got a prescription and simply went through the Walgreen’s drive-thru. But millions of children around the world can’t do that,” Erin said.

She quoted stark numbers: Pneumococcal diseases are the No. 1 cause of vaccine-preventable mortality worldwide – approximately 1 million children 5 and younger die each year. Children are particularly vulnerable because of poor hygiene, malnutrition and a lack of medical care. The Streptococcus pneumoniae bacterium can result in pneumonia, blood infection (bacteremia/sepsis), middle-ear infection (otitis media), or bacterial meningitis.

Erin said she conducted detailed research before choosing the charity’s first project. She looked for diseases that carried a major impact on humans but could be treated with a cost-effective approach, such as vaccines.  With the Vaccine Challenge, Erin said, a single $20 donation will provide one child with immunizations against pneumococcal disease, measles, rotavirus and polio.

It wasn’t a direct route from growing up in Indiana to attending medical School, Erin said. Her father is an ophthalmologist who has been doing medical mission trips for 15 years. And despite joining him on some of those missions, Erin didn’t consider following in her father’s footsteps at first.

After earning a degree in psychology and English, Erin worked for three years in financial management – among other things, she helped train salespeople for auto dealerships. But the need to do “something with a purpose” kept nagging at her, and she enrolled in medical school.

Those mission trips with her father made an impression. She described how her father quietly paid for a patient to travel from St. Vincent to Grenada to get a computerized tomography (CT) scan.

“ ‘No’ wasn’t an option for Dad,” she said.

With One World Global Health, Erin proved “no” isn’t an option for her, either. Despite several people telling her she could not set up a 501(c) 3 nonprofit public charity without an attorney’s help, Erin did all the research and filled out all the required state and IRS documents. She also wrote Web content, chose photographs for the website, and set up a business model. Her younger brother designed the charity’s website and flyers.

Erin said she is committed to continue the charity after the FIRE project ends – and throughout her medical career: “I wanted to go to medical school to do global mission work.”

In addition to studying and organizing One World Global Health, Erin cares for her 6-year-old daughter. To stay ahead of the game, she said she tries to do one extra thing each day in the areas of parenting, running a charity and studying.

Her mentor Dr. Jonathan Kibble said Erin demonstrates the finest qualities of UCF medical students.

“Erin Purdy exemplifies the passion, care for others, and spirit of inquiry we are so proud of in our UCF medical students. She has shown great innovation and determination to launch the One World Global Health charity. Erin is a person with great integrity and a deep commitment to the practice of medicine,” said Dr. Kibble, assistant dean of medical education and associate professor of physiology.

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