"The best part of going on medical missions is being able to see the immediate effects of my work helping people," says Usman Aslam. In June 2015, Aslam embarked on his fourth international medical mission—a trip to Guayaquil, Ecuador, which was funded by an NYIT Presidential Global Fellowship.
In Ecuador, Aslam volunteered for seven days with healthcare professionals mobilized by the nonprofit A Promise To Peru. Aslam was part of a team that performed more than 400 medical screenings and ultrasounds, 725 visual acuity tests, and 128 cataract surgeries (75 percent of the patients were legally blind). They donated supplies and services worth more than $434,100.
Aslam's interest in medicine took root at a young age. He was born in the United States and his family soon moved back to their ancestral home in Pakistan.
"I experienced a deep sense of community and identity as a child growing up in Pakistan," says Aslam. He also witnessed economic disparity. "Across the street from my house were people living in slums, where individual homes were the size of my bathroom. Seeing this made me want to do something."
These early observations motivated Aslam to pursue an American medical education in hopes of guiding people to live better, healthier lives. Years later, he returned to Pakistan to volunteer by helping people recover from floods caused by heavy monsoon rains in 2010. "The epicenter of one flood was a stone's throw from my grandfather's house," he recalls. "Most of my relatives were forced to leave their homes in the middle of the night and were displaced for months."
In total, Aslam has individually raised a little more than $20,000 for his medical missions and separate fundraisers for Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation (MMRF) and UNICEF.
Back home at NYIT, Aslam is a busy member of the Class of 2018 at the Old Westbury campus. He serves as president of the NYITCOM Student Cardiology Organization. In October, he attended the American Osteopathic Association's 2015 Osteopathic Medical Conference and Exposition in Orlando, Fla., where he also volunteered at a health clinic in a low-income community.
In addition, Aslam works as a student researcher in the lab of Qiangrong Liang, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of biomedical sciences. "I'm fortunate to work with a professor who shares my current research interests in the study of cardiovascular pathology at cellular and molecular levels," he says.
Aslam and Liang examine the effects of fasting on the selective autophagy of mitochondria—"the cell's power plants"—in the heart tissue of mice. Autophagy is the normal process that gets rid of damaged parts such as mitochondria in the cells of animal bodies and is essential to balanced metabolism.
Outside of Liang's lab, class, and his travels, Aslam makes time for endurance sports with a cause. In 2015, he completed his first ironman triathlon in Penn Yan, N.Y., on behalf of "Team for Cures," and raised $5,050 for MMRF research with the help of friends, family members, and colleagues.