We are proud to announce the 2016 Elks Alum of the Year–Rachel Russo! Rachel received her Most Valuable Student scholarship in 2001 as she began her undergraduate career at the University of Central Florida. Since graduating from UCF, she has dedicated her career to serving others and touching lives in remarkable ways.
Read on to hear how she spells “ALUM.”
A is for Andes.
Upon graduating from the University of Central Florida, Russo moved to Peru and spent a year volunteering in a rural desert community in the high Andes. She served the community by teaching during the day and offering services in a free medical clinic at night. Russo and her teammates worked to bring fresh fruits and vegetables, clean drinking water, school supplies, and electricity to the community while offering substance abuse counseling and violence prevention services. These volunteers' efforts culminated in the formation of the non-profit organization Kindness Connection–Peru.
L is for Louisiana.
While in Peru, Russo was called to return to the Gulf Coast in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. She served as a flight coordinator for the aeromedical evacuation of injured patients. After forming a close relationship with critical care air transport experts in the military, she was inspired to join the Air Force.
The Air Force funded her medical school education, during which she became passionate about improving access to medical care. This sparked the formation of a student-run organization that assisted patients in obtaining health coverage.
U is for Unite.
Russo has been able to unite her passions through her research to reunite individuals with their families who would have otherwise lost their lives to hemorrhaging.
This year she has received the two highest honors available to a surgical resident researcher from the American Association for the Surgery of Trauma and the American College of Surgeons Committee on Trauma.
She is currently working with a team of researchers at the University of California, Davis, where she is completing her surgical residency with a specialty in global and rural surgery. Her team is further developing a new technology that has already saved the lives of patients in Sweden and Japan, as well as a 28-year-old father of six in California–the partial resuscitative endovascular balloon occlusion of the aorta. This technique slows internal bleeding from injured organs while at the same time ensuring adequate blood flow to other vital internal organs.
M is for Military.
Russo plans to become a trauma/critical-care surgeon for the Air Force. Her service to those who have served will extend beyond her career as she has chosen to donate her $500 grant awarded to her as the Elks Alum of the Year to Paws for Veterans. This charity provides veterans with physical or psychological injury a trained furry friend that would otherwise be euthanized. Russo was drawn to this charity through the connection she has with her Wheaton Terrier, Clancy, who she adopted during a difficult time in her own life.
“Through the military I have had the opportunity to expand my participation in humanitarian assistance and disaster response and now sit on a National Healthcare Disaster Expert panel to create standards for healthcare aid workers when responding to disasters domestically and internationally.” Russo shares. “While it has been a long path, and it isn’t over yet, I thank the Elks for granting me the scholarship that helped put it all in motion.”