Adding sensation to prosthetics: Q&A with Sophie de Oliveira Barata

At TEDMED 2014, Sophie de Oliveira Barata, founder of The Alternative Limb Project, gave us a glimpse into her wildly creative process of designing imaginative, personalized prosthetics. We reached out to learn more about her story and what lies ahead.

Sophie de Oliveira Barata at TEDMED 2014

“So this is a form of expression, an empowerment, a celebration. It’s their choice of how to complete their body — whether that means having a realistic match or something from an unexplored imagination.” – Sophie on the TEDMED 2014 stage.

You’re working on a documentary – “The Alternative Limb Project” – about your work with a young soldier amputee. Can you tell us a little more?

It will be an intimate portrait documentary, following the lives of three inspirational amputees on their journeys to creating unique prosthetic limbs that embody their interests, imaginations and personalities. It tells the story from inception to end – beginning with the design, the construction, and continuing to the completion of the limbs, and beyond.

The documentary asks if the new, alternative limb has had any positive impact on the amputees’ perceptions of their bodies. It explores ideas surrounding the connection between the human body and mind, investigating how the imagination can translate into a physical object and create a tangible realization of one’s personality.

We conduct a series of experiments with the amputees, testing our hypothesis that they form a stronger sense of “ownership” with the alternative limbs than they experience with their standard prostheses.  The aim of the experiments is to assess the significance of “The Alternative Limb Project’ as a therapeutic service for amputees by focusing on and comparing the sense of “ownership” experienced by the participants, both before and after their limb is made.

Tell us – if you were to lose a limb, how would your surreal prosthesis look?

I would want it to be classic, humorous and versatile.  If it were an arm, it would be an arm shape to mirror my other side.  It would be decorated in etched leather, with intricate metal-work housing various compartments.  One would be a long compartment for useful interchangeable devices, like a smart-phone, projector or sewing kit. If it were a leg, it would be made up of interchangeable panels with gaps on either side so daylight could shine through the leg. It would also have a little brass cuckoo bird that pops out on the hour.

You’ve shared that one of your goals is to break down social barriers and change the dialogue surrounding prostheses.  Are you involved in any kind of educational outreach with schools or universities?

I have visited a few schools to discuss prostheses.  When I asked the children to draw their “ultimate” alternative limb, the results were fascinating, from sweet (candy) dispenser legs to arms that house pet stick insects. One little boy just drew a realistic arm and said, “I would want this again.”  Hearing that, I was filled with admiration for his independent thinking. The children, as you would expect, were curious and interested.  Once, following a talk, the head teacher announced that an old student would be returning to show his new electronic hand the following week.  His final words were, “Remember, don’t point and stare – that would be rude.”  Considering that we had just spent time talking about breaking down barriers and reducing stigma, I was quite surprised at what he said.

What’s next for you?
To create more exciting and challenging projects, and to continue inspiring a positive dialogue about the body.

The Sound of Health: Q&A with Julian Treasure

In his TEDMED 2014 talk, Julian Treasure discussed the importance of designing health care facilities with acoustic healing in mind. Now he’s shared a bit more about his talk, his time at TEDMED and his vision for the future.

Julian Treasure at TEDMED 2014

“We’re designing environments that make us crazy. It’s not just our quality of life that suffers. It’s our health, social behavior, and productivity as well.” Julian Treasure at TEDMED 2014

What motivated you to speak at TEDMED?

The scandal of noise in hospitals is unacceptable, affects millions – and is virtually unacknowledged by the profession. This must change!

Why does this talk matter now? What impact do you hope the talk will have?

I sincerely hope healthcare facilities take my three simple steps for good sound onboard because I am convinced they will transform outcomes almost immediately.

What kind of meaningful or surprising connections did you make at TEDMED?

Meeting Bob Carey and his tutu… wonderful. And with a young baby we are passionate about breastfeeding, hearing E. Bimla Schwarz give the evidence for the benefits of this wonderful process.

How can we learn more about your work?

My fifth TED talk, How To Speak So That People Want To Listen, was released roughly a year ago and is now in the top 30 TED talks of all time. I have resources free and also links to my courses on conscious listening and powerful speaking on my website.

What is the legacy you want to leave?

Healthy sound in every building we occupy – and a world that sounds beautiful.

Magic Medicine? The wonders of nanomedicine

by Daniel Kohane

The content, views and opinions expressed in this blog post are those of the author(s) and do not imply endorsement by TEDMED. By inviting guest bloggers, TEDMED hopes to share a variety of perspectives that provoke and engage our community in discussion and debate.

Imagine being able to treat your medical condition immediately when you need to, safely, and without input from anybody else. No waiting to see your doctor, no wondering whether that extra dose of medicine will be too much.

Sound like magic? Well, that is exactly what many of us scientists in nanomedicine believe is right around the corner. And we are proposing the use of a “wand” to make it happen.

“Sometimes you can achieve big things by thinking very small.” Daniel Kohane at TEDMED 2014

“Sometimes you can achieve big things by thinking very small.” Daniel Kohane at TEDMED 2014

Here’s how it would work in a patient with chronic pain. Such a patient would likely have pain that would wax and wane throughout the course of the day and during the night. His/her need for relief would also fluctuate, depending on activity and effort level. Currently, oral pain pills would generally be used to treat the condition, which would take effect sooner or later, and might or might not make the patient adequately comfortable. In some cases, the medicines could make the patient too comfortable, or effectively stoned. The wand could make all of this so much better.

The wand would actually be a laser, or another powerful light source. The patient would place the laser over the painful area and press a button, firing near-infrared light into the affected tissue, where the patient’s physician had injected or implanted a reservoir of drugs. That reservoir would have been built with light-sensitive nanostructures (like those in my TEDMED talk) so that it would respond to a specific light fired by the laser by releasing those drugs. So, using the wand would cause pain medications to be released at the site where the pain is – and only there; no getting stoned with this treatment. And by varying the intensity and duration of the light beam, the patient would be able to determine exactly how much pain relief is delivered, and for how long.

This approach need not be limited to pain; it could be used for a wide range of diseases, in many parts of the body. And the wand need not use light. Scientists have shown that similar effects can be achieved with oscillating magnetic fields, ultrasound, electricity, and many other energy sources. In fact, people are now looking at drug-releasing devices that would not even require the wand component – there would be indwelling sensors on the device that could sense when a drug needed to be released. Alternatively, the devices could have computerized programming that would enable complex patterns of drug release suitable for a particular disease. That process would remove the burden from the patient of having to self-administer injectable drugs several times a day.

As nanoscience gets increasingly sophisticated, it opens up possibilities for medicines that are specific, targeted, with fewer side effects, and easier to deploy. While the potential is not truly magical, they are certainly parts of this field that previous generations of physicians, scientists, and patients would have thought impossible.

At TEDMED 2014, Daniel Kohane, Professor of Anesthesia at Harvard Medical School and a Senior Associate in Pediatric Critical Care at Boston Children’s Hospital, revealed some of the amazing work he’s doing with nanoparticle technology to transform the power, safety, and specificity of drugs. 

Building Health: Q&A with Robin Guenther

In her TEDMED 2014 talk, expert in sustainable healthcare design and long-time advocate for healthier healing environments Robin Guenther explored the unusual connections between health and environmental design.  We asked her a few questions to learn more.

RobinGuentherTEDMED2

What motivated you to speak at TEDMED?

For the past couple of decades, I have been developing a body of thinking – I’ve spoken and written a lot for healthcare audiences.  I wanted the chance to “step outside,” focus my ideas, and make a direct appeal for accelerating the transformation of healthcare practice and built environments.

Why does your talk matter now? What impact do you hope it will have?

For me, the immediacy of climate change threats, the persuasive science of toxic chemicals and health, and the rise of interest in healthier workplaces are all coming together to drive a fundamental transformation of healthcare delivery.  I want everyone in healthcare to understand that their practices do have consequences, but they have the power to drive practices that prioritize health and “heal” both people and ecosystems. At 20% of the GDP, healthcare has both enormous upstream leverage and downstream influence to create a tipping point for prioritizing health.

What is the legacy you want to leave?

I want to be remembered as being fearless about self-reflection.  It’s difficult to face the fact that healthcare is an industrial system that creates waste, dismal work environments and a load of externalized harm, but it is, nonetheless, true. I believe that only by seeing the system clearly, connecting healthcare practices with their environmental and health consequences, can we transform both healthcare and larger societal practices. I want people to believe that I played even just a minor supporting role in building a world where “health is the aim.”

Is there anything you wish you could have included in your talk?

The quest for “building health” is a global one. I wish I could have shown some examples of amazing work that is taking place globally, transforming systems of care and the buildings that support care delivery.  Of note is the Sambhavna Clinic, in Bhopal, India, that cares for multiple generations of Bhopal chemical disaster survivors and grows medicinal herbs and foods on site.  Another example is the amazing work of the UK National Health Service in transforming care delivery to focus on integrated health in communities.

What action items would you recommend to your viewers?

Join the Healthier Hospitals Initiative or Global Green and Healthy Hospitals Network.  Select a practice that your organization or place of work engages in,  and research its environmental and health costs.  Does it have externalized negative impacts? If so, change it in order to move beyond those impacts, and share your story!

A Lesson With NextGenU: Q&A with Erica Frank

At TEDMED 2014, founder of NextGenU Erica Frank shared her revolutionary prescription for ending the global shortage of physicians. We reached out to Erica to learn more about her ideas and aspirations.

EricaFrankYoutubeThumb

Why does your talk matter today? What impact do you hope it will have?

We are poised for huge scaleup, with NextGenU.org being in essence the first and still only free university.  We are at a point where we have users in 128 countries. Our collaborators include government agencies from the US to Sudan, and our funders span from Grand Challenges and WHO to the Macy Foundation and NATO. We just received a $16 million endowment from the Annenberg Physician Training Program in Addiction Medicine, and we are here to stay.  But, we want more people taking advantage of our trainings, and we hope that this talk will help with that – more health scientists and providers in training and practice coming to the site, and getting credit for free.

Is there anything you wish you had included in your talk?

In 2014, we focused on Graduate Medical Education.  We began our first residency program, Family Medicine, now with the first 200 of the 60,000 residents we have agreed to co-train in the next decade with the Sudanese government and the University of Gezira. Our next two residencies will be in Preventive Medicine and Occupational/Environmental Medicine; we plan to pilot these at Pacific NW University (in Washington state), Stanford (California), U of the Incarnate Word (Texas), and USFQ (Quito, Ecuador).  We are developing these with the American College of Preventive Medicine, Association of Prevention Teaching and Research, European Society of Lifestyle Medicine, Harvard Institute of Lifestyle Medicine, MedVid.io and others to create the first globally-available residencies.

The educational system will span from expert-created competencies, through learning resources and activities, multiple choice and mentor, peer, and self assessments, to recommending Continuing Medical Education based on trainees’ patients’ outcomes, observed through electronic medical records.  It will be unprecedented in the scope of the span throughout a practitioner’s career, and with a community of practice of trainees who have learned to interact globally and meaningfully.

What action items do you want your viewers to take?

Come take a course and get credit for free, or create a globally available course with us!

What legacy do you want to leave?

There is now free accredited education available globally – this could solve so very many problems for so many people.

The active ingredients of placebo effects: Q&A with Ted Kaptchuk

Ted Kaptchuk, Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, directs the Program in Placebo Studies, Healing and Therapeutic Encounter. In his TEDMED talk, he upended many assumptions about what really works in the therapeutic encounter, and what doesn’t, as revealed in placebo research. We caught up with Ted to learn more.

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What motivated you to speak at TEDMED?

My research has implication for the general public.  I want to disseminate the results of my scientific inquiries and encourage patients and the public to demand that health care acknowledge them and their implications for the therapeutic encounter.

Why does this talk matter now? What impact do you hope the talk will have?

Health care has become increasingly expensive and dehumanized.  Placebo effects are relatively inexpensive and add humanity (engagement, words and honesty) back into the mix.   I hope my talk will educate the public and encourage people to expect and demand a health care that acknowledges the importance of the human element.  I also hope that health care providers– nurses, physicians, allied health care clinicians, complementary medical practitioners, etc– see that their role as more than using effective interventions, but also a participant involved in a process. Placebo effects tell us, especially for chronic diseases, what the health care provider does actually matters. Symptoms are relieved and the course of illness changes…depending on this interaction. In situations where there are already good drugs and treatments, these interventions become more effective. In situations where there are no good treatments available, the health care provider, by their interactions, can make things better. The placebo effect is about releasing and harnessing powers inherent in the clinical encounter in order to expand what healing is about. Placebo effects are always present. The study of placebo effects encourages patients to expect improvement and encourage clinicians to know that they can always make a difference with engagement, words and honesty. These ideas are too important to disregard. The time is now.

What were your top 3 TEDMED 2014 talks?

Betsy Nabel from the Brigham and Women’s Hospital for discussing humility. Carl Hart for being an inspiration about how to face challenges. Emery Brown for expanding what we know about consciousness.

What kind of meaningful or surprising connections did you make at TEDMED?

I had several discussions with speakers and participants that I am pursuing in relationship to collaborations and dissemination of research. I’ve invited several people to speak at Harvard and have been invited to speak at various institutions.

What is the legacy you want to leave?

I hope that others scientists will see the possibility of pursuing careers investigating the context of healing and its neurobiological underpinning. I hope practitioners will get smarter about what is going on in the therapeutic encounter. I hope patients will set a higher bar in what to expect in health care.

Any advice you have for the TEDMED community?

Demand better health care. Don’t tolerate a clinician with whom you don’t feel bonded (unless it is something like he/she is the only surgeon who can do a particular surgery.) A clinician should make you feel good about visiting them. Don’t accept less.

Global surrogacy: When making babies is no fun. Op-ed by Leslie Morgan Steiner

The content, views and opinions expressed in this blog post are those of the author(s) and do not imply endorsement by TEDMED. By inviting guest bloggers, TEDMED hopes to share a variety of perspectives that provoke and engage our community in discussion and debate.


Leslie Morgan Steiner at TEDMED 2014

Leslie Morgan Steiner at TEDMED 2014: The inconceivable costs of baby-making

As a mother and writer on women’s issues, I believe nothing is more intimate an issue for every woman—actually, every human being—than the desire to have a child.

Now, my children were all conceived and born naturally. They enjoy full robust health. But I discovered that infertility—the myriad variations of disease and biological abnormality that cause specific men and women to be unable to create children together—strikes randomly. Anyone can be infertile. Infertility is surprisingly common; the inability to have children afflicts 10-12% of the human population.

There is no surefire way to prove you are fertile in advance, for example you cannot use a blood test to screen newborns or teenagers for the inability to have children as one might for hemophilia or celiac disease. Part of infertility’s cruelty is the surprise of its assault. You rarely learn you are infertile until you try, and fail, to have a baby.

When I found all of this out, I wondered: what would I have done if I were infertile?

That was when I stumbled upon the seemingly strange new solution of surrogacy—paying another woman to carry a baby for you. Surrogacy has actually always been a solution to the age-old problem of infertility. In fact, surrogacy (via concubine) is mentioned over 20 times in the Old Testament.

Today, the global medical community, funded by generations of desperate infertile women, has figured out exciting—and disturbing—new ways to create babies no matter the obstacles. The medical term is Gestational Surrogacy (GS). A new-and-improved version of an ancient solution to childlessness.

Today, thanks to in vitro fertilization (IVF) and other advances in assisted reproductive technology, babies can be created with sperm from one source, an egg from another, and a uterus from yet another. In England today, women who are carriers of rare mitochondrial disease can actually use their DNA in a healthy donor egg cell to bypass the defective mitochondria, thereby creating an IVF scenario with three biological sources. Surrogates today are not biologically or genetically connected to the babies they gestate. This simplifies many ethical, legal, and parenting issues.

And creates new ones.

Modern surrogacy is transforming humans’ centuries-old definition of motherhood.

Today a newborn can have two mothers or two fathers, or no mother, or no father. A baby can actually have zero legal parents, as in a few isolated cases where a gestational surrogate carried a baby created with donor egg and sperm, and a clinic mix-up blocked authorities from tracking down and proving any legal parent.

Today anyone—a 25-year-old with uterine fibroids, a 40-year-old woman with a cancerous uterus, two married gay men, a nun—can have a baby, their biological baby, via surrogate.

As long as they can afford it, because surrogacy in the U.S. can cost $100,000 or more.

Gestational surrogacy has become better known in recent years due to international celebrities such as musician Elton John, comedian Jimmy Fallon, and actresses Nicole Kidman, Elizabeth Banks and Sarah Jessica Parker who have all had babies via U.S. gestational surrogates.

But the rise of GS is important for normal people too.

Like Gerry and Rhonda Wile, a nurse and firefighter from Arizona, who shared their story with me for my book The Baby Chase.

Gerry and Rhonda met and married in their late 20s. Gerry was already a father, but he’d had a vasectomy, which he didn’t tell Rhonda about for six years (but that’s another story).

As for Rhonda, for her entire life she had an extremely rare, undiagnosed medical condition that allowed her to get pregnant easily—and she did—but the same condition caused her to miscarry 100% of these pregnancies.

Prior to 20th century medical technology, Rhonda would have gotten pregnant and miscarried dozens of times throughout her reproductive years—as often as 3-4 times a year—for decades, without ever understanding what was wrong with her biologically. For too many centuries, infertility was a lifelong, mystifying curse. A perennial loss that often left sufferers, women in particular, feeling rejected by their husbands, families, communities, and even by God.

So what did the Wiles do?

What would you do?

Today there are several options for the world’s infertile. Treatment, adoption, accepting that you will live your life without children. But for the Wiles, there was only one solution. Surrogacy meant the Wiles could create the family they dreamed of using Gerry’s sperm, Rhonda’s eggs (or what turned out to be eggs from a donor), and an unrelated gestational carrier.

Gestational surrogacy is an exciting, awe-inspiring new medical innovation that makes it possible for infertile couples like Gerry and Rhonda, and millions of other people, to have babies and become parents.

Leslie and the Wiles family

Leslie and the Wiles family

Surrogacy today heralds the end of infertility, the death of an affliction that has plagued humans since the beginning of time. However, surrogacy in the United States is financially out of reach to most people. This is why some people, like Gerry and Rhonda Wile, travel to other countries to find affordable, legal surrogates to create their babies.

The final surprise about surrogacy is that it’s personal. It’s human. It’s about you and me and the people we love.

What if you had to travel 8,000 miles to have your baby—and risk not being able to bring her back with you?

Or had to choose between being openly gay and having your own biological offspring?

Or your health insurance said you were too old, or too religious, or not religious enough to qualify for infertility reimbursement?

Or your God said no, you can’t treat your disease…you must live your life without the children you’ve dreamt of having since you were a child yourself.

Imagine the betrayal you would feel if your country, your political leaders, your neighbors, your God, refused you a baby, merely because the treatment for your disease made people uncomfortable.

Would this make you want—or deserve—a baby any less?

In her TEDMED 2014 talk, Leslie Morgan Steiner, journalist and bestselling author, brought the audience along on her journey to learn the truth about a successful gestational surrogacy industry on the far side of the world–and how it could provide a model to help solve several social problems in the US.

 

Stop bypassing the dangers of anorexia – Q&A with Cathy Ladman

“My job is to understand and accept myself, my imperfect self.” - Cathy Ladman, TEDMED 2014 [Photo by Brett Hartman]

“My job is to understand and accept myself, my imperfect self.” – Cathy Ladman, TEDMED 2014 [Photo by Brett Hartman]

 

At TEDMED 2014, Cathy Ladman – a comedian famous for poking fun at her personal neuroses – shared the internal dialogue of someone struggling to cope and understand her eating disorder. Her talk, funny in the “I don’t know if I should be laughing” kind of way, focused on anorexia, which has the highest death rate of any mental illness. We got in touch with Cathy to learn more about her talk and experience at TEDMED.

Why does this talk matter now? What impact do you hope the talk will have?

I have thought, for a very long time, that there has to be a real, honest wake-up call in our society regarding the obsession with being thin. There are people dying from anorexia, and our society turns away from these facts because they are inconvenient. These facts get in the way of the, most often, ridiculous female body standard, and that’s what sells magazines, movies, TV shows, etc. I hope that people will see how grave this is, and how we have the power to stop perpetuating it.

After watching this talk, what actions do you want your viewers to take?

Be honest with yourself and others. Find your self-worth in things other than your body and your looks. Speak out when you see TV shows, films or any public media glorifying skinny.

Which TEDMED 2014 talks or performances left the biggest impression on you? Why?

Sigrid Fry-Revere’s “What can Iran teach us about the kidney shortage?” – I never knew of the donor system that exists in Iran. This talk was fascinating, and made a lot of sense to me. I was partly surprised by my response. I would have guessed that I would not be on the side of selling organs, but I see that, handled this way, it’s a sound idea.

Rosie King’s “How autism freed me to be myself”- Rosie was terrific, vibrant, hopeful, brave, completely real, and spoke with no artifice. I loved her!

Abraham Verghese’s “A linguistic prescription for ailing communication”  - Abraham is a gentle, intelligent man, whose love of words echoes my own. The more we know language, the more we create language, the better we can communicate with each other and, hence, understand each other.

Carl Hart’s “Let quit abusing drug users” – This was such a terrific presentation of a perspective that I hadn’t known before, and makes complete sense. His theories could help to change the cycle of drug addiction and poverty.

Acrobaticalist Ninja Theater – Q&A with NANDA

NANDA is a high-energy troupe of comic actors who delight in calculated chaos, kung-faux fighting, and irreverent pop-culture parodies. Their TEDMED 2014 performance literally turned everything upside down (including themselves!) with a mishmash of traditional theater, vaudeville, and circus – all while utilizing dance, juggling and acrobatics. NANDA’s contribution to TEDMED went beyond their performance, as they also led TEDMED speakers through relaxation and voice exercises before their sessions.

NANDA’s performers are Misha Fradin, Chen Pollina, Kiyota Sage, and Tomoki Sage. We got in touch with them to learn more about their time at TEDMED.

Turning it upside down at TEDMED. [Jerod Harris]

Turning it upside down at TEDMED. [Jerod Harris]

 

What motivated NANDA to perform at TEDMED?

We were motivated to connect, share and learn with and from the TEDMED community.  Plus, its always fun to visit San Francisco!

What impact do you want your performance to have?

We hope our performance inspires people to enjoy life to the fullest!

Which TEDMED 2014 talks or performances left the biggest impression on you?

Jeffrey Iliff’s “One more reason to get a good night’s sleep” – Jeffrey inspired me to understand my sleep behavior more, allowing me a better understanding of my self and body. As an acrobat and juggler, my physical and mental health are both very important to me (Misha Fradin).

Kitra Cahana’s “My father, locked in his body but soaring free” – Kitra’s talk was emotional and powerful, there were multiple times I found myself on the edge of my seat as the story was beautifully woven. It inspired my own healing process and compassion around traumatic experiences from my own life (Misha Fradin).

Amy McGuire’s “There is no genome for the human spirit” – Amy’s genetic research made me think about the human race and how we’ll be battling our health problems in the future. I am a huge fan of genome sequencing as I have had family members that may still be alive if there had been affordable tech to do this. The fact that this is becoming a reality is phenomenal, and will drastically change the direction of all medicine (Misha Fradin).

What is the legacy NANDA wants to leave?

We share a vision of living in a global community that values and demonstrates support, imagination, and intercultural collaboration. It is our mission to be an instrument in the success of this vision.

What’s next for the group?

The next step for NANDA is to have as much fun in life as is humanly possible.

Apart from Desire – Q&A with Heather Raffo

Actor, playwright, and librettist Heather Raffo performed a powerful excerpt from her one-woman show, 9 Parts of Desire. We reached out to learn more about her inspirations, aspirations and ambition.

Heather Raffo performs on the TEDMED stage. [Sandy Huffaker]

Heather Raffo performs on the TEDMED stage. [Sandy Huffaker]

 

What motivated you to perform at TEDMED?

As an artist with Iraqi and American heritage, I most wanted to launch a conversation about how we recover from war: how we survive as individuals, families, cultures and countries.

My work grapples with an ever shifting identity of what it means to be Iraqi or American and how trauma changes one’s sense of self.   I was thrilled to have an opportunity to talk and learn from such diverse and profound thinkers and health care professionals about how they relate trauma and loss to survival and healing.

Why does this performance matter now? What impact do you hope the performance will have?

A few months ago I had a revelatory conversation with a US Military General. He reminded me that the effects of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have only begun to surface for our veterans. For Iraqis, the civilian population has experienced multiple traumas over multiple decades, the sense of belonging that once held that society together is shifting rapidly as it is throughout the Middle East.

The work I do tackles some of the most difficult conversations our nation has yet to have.   It also tackles taboos rarely addressed in Middle Eastern society.  It broadens the lens through which many view the Iraq war, and helps offer a complex understanding of those affected by violence.

What kind of meaningful or surprising connections did you make at TEDMED?  

I connected with so many extraordinary individuals at TEDMED.   But perhaps most moving, were the conversations I had with war veterans who sought me out after my performances. They were thankful that hard truths were used to break open subjects they feel have not been discussed openly. TEDMED was a unique environment to have those difficult conversations about devastating human experiences and the universal will to live.

What is the legacy you want to leave?

I’ve spent the last decades of my life devoted to bridging my Eastern and Western cultures – bringing the worst of war into a sacred artistic experience. The legacy I am working to bring about is a movement that uplifts the feminine experience, that addresses our relationship to violence and that integrates the Middle Eastern voice into the American theatrical canon.

What’s next for you?

I’m working on an adaptation of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House set in a Arab American family.  What is particularly thrilling about this work is that my writing is being done from an embedded position within Middle Eastern American communities.  The first mounted workshop will be at Georgetown’s Davis Performing Arts Center in December 2015.

I’m launching my Places of Pilgrimage monologue series on the web.  Middle Eastern women telling their stories in their own words! It is based on a writing workshop I developed for universities and community centers both in America and internationally.

My opera Fallujah, inspired by the life of US Marine Christian Ellis, will have its world premiere at Long Beach Opera in January of 2016. The opera is composed by Tobin Stokes.

Once these three projects are up and running, links will be available on my website heatherraffo.com.