Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

Hearts for the Homeless brings free heart screenings to unhoused communities

Champers Fu
Public Health sophomore Arushi Shyam explains a man’s vitals at the Church Under the Bridge on Sunday. The Hearts for the Homeless student organization takes vital signs and provides education for the less fortunate on heart health on several occasions each week.

Amidst the busy streets of Austin, a compassionate group of aspiring healthcare workers provides care to the overlooked corners of the city. With the heart being a central part of the body’s overall well-being, this organization offers a unique lifeline to the people experiencing homelessness, making a difference one heartbeat at a time.

Hearts for the Homeless, a UT club, hosts free heart screenings for the homeless three times a week at various local spots, such as Micah 6 and Church Under the Bridge. While the club focuses on screenings, it also provides heart health education, information about free clinics and care packages. Public health sophomore Arushi Shyam said volunteering made her realize the importance of healthcare for all. 

“Being in the group has helped me realize that heart health is a large indicating factor of a person’s health,” Shyam said. “I actually switched my major from neuroscience to public health because I realized … we need to give more access to health care.”

Shyam said that while the club cannot inform patients of high blood pressure, they can instead suggest resources. 

“We use the American Heart Association as one of our measures of what is (a) good blood pressure and … if it is within a concerning range, legally, we can’t say anything because we’re not qualified,” Shyam said. “We can suggest (the) different things that could help them improve their blood pressure and also what they can do or where they can go to.”

The club boasts more than 200 members, and while most are pre-health and science majors, public health junior and club officer Ama Abeynayake said the club welcomes and trains everyone. Abeynayake said on top of screenings, the club also hopes to increase awareness. 

“A lot of these communities smoke or eat unhealthy foods because that’s what (is) easily accessible to them,” Abeynake said. “We hope by doing this, we can help these vulnerable populations increase their awareness and also provide those that already have high blood pressure with the care that they need.”

Public health junior and club president Grace Ugochukwu said she plans to obtain bus passes for the homeless in the near future.

“One of my big plans is to establish (a) partnership with CapMetro (so) we can get bus passes to our population because accessibility has been an issue that we’ve noticed when we do these screenings,” Ugochukwu said.

Ugochukwu said she enjoys seeing recurring faces at the weekly screenings.

“I really enjoy what we actually do because I can see the difference that we make,” Ugochukwu said. “You see people come up to you, same faces come up to you, telling you they got their blood pressure down — it’s such a great experience.”

Additionally, Ugochukwu said that volunteering connects aspiring healthcare workers with the population. 

“As a (future) physician, I feel all physicians should know how to talk and interact with different people from different communities,” Ugochukwu said. “One of the main issues regarding public health is health equity and access, and this is something I’ve been working with directly through this (organization) … (and) it’s balanced with my aspirations.”

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