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Taking Page from "Story Corps," Vintage Camper Travels VA Recording Stories about Your Health


Historians are people who document history, but what’s a healthstorian?  In this case, it's a project documenting people’s health, and health care in southwestern Virginia.

Recording is underway inside the ‘Healthstorian, a vintage looking, gulfstream camper, tricked out as a travelling recording booth.   “This is Dave Trinkle, Associate Dean for community and culture at Virginia Tech school of medicine at “Go Fest…” (an outdoor festival that aims to get people to ‘go’ outdoors.)


Trinkle got the idea for recording people from ‘Story Corps’ a program that will be familiar to public radio listeners, where people record their personal stories and insights for posterity.

“We have Sally Southard in the Healthstorian now.  She is a pediatric nurse practitioner, Welcome, thank you for stopping by.”

Anyone and everyone are welcome to record in the healthstorian, patients and practioners, and Southards’s story is a bit of both.  Trinkle begins by asking  why she went into the medical field.

“Well I think because I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when I was 10 and my mom also had type 1 diabetes.  When I went to high school in Baltimore, I lived with a family and the woman there was nurse and I’ve lived around (other) nurses and I just have always wanted to be one.”

Southard recounts her personal story as you would to your doctor, but this is for posterity.  And as she tells it, we hear how it really spans the evolution of diabetes care here over the last six decades.

“So when I was diagnosed, it was 1966.” Glucose monitoring was very different back then.  Instead of testing blood, as is done today, there were only urine tests, which were much less accurate. “We had to boil our glass syringes every night before we took out one shot of insulin in the morning.  And that’s like 3 or 4 hours later than (what an accurate reading of your blood sugar would be.  But, not until the early 80s did the blood glucose testing become available.

She tells Trinkle about how she was one of the first people in this area to try the revolutionary, new insulin pump that had just become available in the late 80s.

“Since then I’ve done seven artificial pancreas trials. I’m in one right now with University of Virginia, and just seeing how all that’s changed is amazing!” Especially when she thinks back to what it was when she was first diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.

“I do remember the Pediatrician standing at the foot of my bed, and he said, ‘Don’t worry Sally, they’re going to find a cure in your lifetime.  And I’m like, ‘OK! I’m in my 60s now, I’m ready.  Let’s hurry up here!”

The travelling Healthstorian is looking to hear from people from all over southwestern VA.  You can make an appointment to be recorded by Trinkle or you may see the camper parked at some event  and just walk in, or perhaps wait outside.  They’ll have the camper set up like it’s ready for the night, with an awning, table and chairs to hang out.  Walk-ins are encouraged.

“Yeah for example, one of the interviews we did was with a musician who was playing at Go-Fest that encourages people to ‘go outdoors.’  He had, had a pretty severe vocal cord injury – he was guitar player and a singer—and while talking about music is great, we really focused in on the impact of a vocal cord injury, to his passion and his journey to various health care centers to get that repaired. It was a life changing event for him.  And yeah, that’s the type of ‘walk up’ interview that you don’t expect that was just fantastic.”

Heathstorian interviewees could remain anonymous and or review their comments before they posted.  The recordings will be housed in the Virginia Tech University Library archives. They will be available on social media.

The project is a collaboration of VTC School of Medicine, Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC, Jefferson College of Health Sciences, Carilion Clinic, City of Roanoke Libraries, and several departments at Virginia Tech, VT Library System and VTStories, a program dedicated to preserving Hokie history.

Robbie Harris is based in Blacksburg, covering the New River Valley and southwestern Virginia.
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