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Taking the Long Road Home: Young Medical Researcher Returns to his Roots

Taking the Long Road Home: Young Medical Researcher Returns to his Roots

David Heller, a research fellow currently stationed in Uganda, was visiting his parents in Woodbridge, Beth and Allen Heller, and reconnecting with old friends in early May when he had one extra reason for celebration: his mother’s overwhelming re-election to the Board of Selectmen. “It was complete serendipity,” that the municipal election happened during his ten-day whirlwind visit to the Northeast, he said. But he came to the polls and waited for the results in a special show of support for Beth Heller.

The young internist is a research fellow at the University of California, San Francisco, and participating in a collaborative project with the University of Makerere in Uganda. His specialty is hypertension, a rapidly growing problem in Africa and other developing countries, as they adopt a more western lifestyle. Hypertension has been growing to such an extent worldwide, that the World Health Organization committed a summit to the subject in 2013.

While in Uganda, Heller works at a field station in Mbale, which treats patients with HIV. “When they come in for treatment, we might as well put a blood pressure glove on people,” he said.

His personal interest is first and foremost to bring health care to people who lack access to it, whether they live in New Haven, San Francisco or Uganda, he said. In talking to the Ugandan health care providers, he said he found a great deal of communality in the kinds of diseases they face. However, the African doctors also will see diseases that their American counterparts rarely see, such as Malaria. Heller said he developed a great deal of respect for the local physicians who often have to muster resilience in the face of limited resources.

English is the lingua franca both at the field station and at the University, which helps communication with colleagues. But when he is traveling to villages, he needs a translator.

The one-year fellowship is coming to an end this summer and Heller is interested in moving back to Connecticut, possibly in a faculty position. A 1998 Amity graduate, he said he always kept ties with some of his high-school friends. “The more you go away the more you feel the need to connect,” with the community he grew up in, he said.

Photo: David Heller (fourth from left) enjoys the rich exchange of ideas with colleagues in Uganda during a fellowship there.

By Bettina Thiel – Woodbridge Town News Correspondent

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