Dena Krishnan would not be in medical school if it weren’t for her time at BGSU. Krishnan, a fourth-year osteopathic medical student at Lincoln Memorial University-DeBusk College of Osteopathic Medicine (LMU-DCOM) in Harrogate, Tenn., was recently featured in People magazine as one of its “Heroes Among Us” for her work with people in rural Appalachia.
While the road to People prominence has not been an easy one, Krishnan says she knew what she wanted to be at a young age. “When I was five years old I drew a picture of myself giving a vaccine and told people I was going to cure cancer.”
A straight-A student in high school, the Perrysburg native went to Xavier University and graduated feeling discouraged. “I thought I could do everything but I wasn’t standing out,” she said. Krishnan decided to head to BGSU to take a few graduate courses, and was encouraged to get her master’s degree. She joined the lab of Dr. Lee Meserve, Distinguished Teaching Professor of biological sciences. The move would change her life.
Krishnan gets tears in her eyes when she talks about the effect Meserve had on her. “He was my mentor; he took an interest in me as a person and wanted me to achieve my dreams. I went through some personal challenges while I was at BGSU and Dr. Meserve cried with me and encouraged me.”
“Her personality, her warmth, the way she cares about people – it was obvious she would do well in a teaching assistance setting,” said Meserve. “When I got to the point of writing a reference letter, I knew that if she wasn’t out there in health care the world was going to be worse off. I’m so proud of her. She’s going to make a big splash; she’s already making a big splash.”
“So many young people get discouraged,” Krishnan said. “I was lucky to meet someone who took such an interest in my life and wanted me to be successful in all aspects – professionally and personally. If it weren’t for him I would not have applied to medical school.”
Her first two years at LMU-DCOM were tough emotionally. “Medical school was very isolating for me. It was nonstop studying. The focus is on grades and class ranking. I just really wanted to start helping people. I needed to get rejuvenated.”
That rejuvenation came from the Gesundheit! Institute, which is run by Dr. Patch Adams, the nontraditional doctor immortalized in 1998 by Robin Williams in the movie “Patch Adams.” Krishnan reached out to the institute and received a voice mail from Dr. Adams himself. She joined him and dozens of others on a life-altering trip to Costa Rica. “We dressed in clown costumes every day and visited everything from children’s hospitals to the slums. I saw Dr. Adams work tirelessly in the draining heat for hours on end. He would seek out a patient’s mother or a nurse and give them a hug, tell them he loved them. It was incredible to see how much he cared about people.”
Her time with Dr. Adams made her realize she wanted to continue humanitarian work, but the living conditions in rural Appalachia shocked her. “The people are proud and grateful for the help, but you never get used to seeing poverty and neglect. So many conditions are preventable.” Krishnan was encouraged to let her emotions show and to not be afraid to cry with her patients.
A People journalist and photographer followed her for a week during her month-long rural primary-care rotation. She also kept a journal, which she gave to them when she was finished.
Seeing the article came as a shock. “It was like winning Miss America. I was crying, screaming, I didn’t realize the photo of me would be the main focus.” She recently came back to northwest Ohio to talk about her experience. During one event, Toledo Mayor Mike Bell presented her a glass goblet.
Choking back tears, Krishnan says it’s wonderful to be recognized for all her hard work. “Doing what you love is the most revolutionary thing you can do. “