Alumni in Action: Heather Worden Makes a Difference for Amputees
MEET HEATHER WORDEN (2008 Pacific Graduate)
Then: As an undergraduate, Worden engaged in multiple internships and volunteer jobs including research with the Physical Therapy Department, volunteering with Hanger O&P, working as a project engineer for General Mills, and as an R&D engineer for Pathway Medical.
Now: Prosthetic Resident at Veterans Affair Medical Center (VAMC) Long Beach
Impact: Co-researcher of projects utilizing the VA national gait laboratory investigating the biomechanics of gait in bilateral trans-tibial amputations
Q. How did your experience at Pacific influence where you are today?
A. The faculty and staff always encouraged me to pursue my interests. One semester I inquired about substituting a required elective with a biomechanics course that would eventually be very helpful to me in my career. Thankfully the request was approved. I am pretty sure that if the professors had not been so open to alternative areas of engineering, I would not be where I am today. The support I received from the faculty and staff at Pacific were invaluable and I am particularly thankful to the mechanical engineering faculty.
Q. What was the most significant experience you have had during your career? Why this experience?
A. I would have to say that being a part of a prosthetic team that helped make a leg for a surfer from South Africa. The patient came to the U.S. on holiday and inquired about getting a dedicated surfing leg so he could return to his beloved sport. The previous year the patient had fallen victim to a hit and run accident in South Africa - to him life was really not worth living if he could not return to surfing. A team of prosthetists from Southern California worked together to get the materials, components, time and expertise necessary to tackle the task. Their mission was to make him a limb that was light weight, strong, yet could accomplish the difficult alignment that would allow him to be able to place his leg on the surf board like he used to. Often it is difficult to get people what they need due to challenges associated with insurance. The system often falls short of providing what a person really needs to get back to living their life as they did prior to their amputation. In this case, the patient was able to become active like he used to before his accident.
Q. What are your goals for the future and why?
A. I am very passionate about working with patients and creating a relationship that, not only addresses their physical needs, but creates a lifelong memory and a change in the patient's life for the better. I recently accepted a position at Loma Linda University teaching for their entry-level masters program in orthotics and prosthetics as well as working clinically with the prosthetics and orthotics department at the medical center. I am thrilled about all the opportunities I will have to touch the lives of so many locally as well as those abroad through outreach programs. In a nutshell, I hope to be a knowledgeable and effective instructor, giving back what I received at Pacific and being able to change the lives of the students and patients I come in contact with.
Q. What advice would you give a graduating senior?
A. I would encourage any graduating senior to explore the world of engineering and all the various avenues that are influenced by engineering. I cannot tell you how blessed I feel to have had the great education and preparation from Pacific. There is power in finding your niche and being passionate about the work you do every day. With a background in engineering the possibilities are endless.