Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
April 16, 2024

Speakers at TEDxJHU main event explore themes of resilience

By KAIYUAN DU | April 14, 2023



Cameron spotlighted the lack of availability of resources for patients on donor lists as a driving reason for continued research and investment in xenotransplantation.

TEDxJHU held its spring main event, "In Full Bloom," on April 8. Four speakers from the Baltimore region spoke at the event, including associate professor Andrew Cameron, plant enthusiast Liz Vayda, educator Kaelyn Chang and singer Almira Zaky. The AllNighters, an acapella group at the University, performed during intermission.

In an email to The News-Letter, Gurjot Chand, one of the curators of TEDxJHU, spoke on the inspiration behind the idea “In Full Bloom.” She stated that the team wanted to present an event that reflected the growth that each speaker communicated in their talks and hoped to connote a sense of flourishing in the midst of transitioning to a post-COVID-19 landscape.

“What united them was their dedication to the work they love and building a bridge to invite others to share that warmth,” she wrote. “I believe that each speaker had their own take on ‘In Full Bloom.’ Each speaker taught us how to bloom in different ways, which definitely helped me revise what ‘In Full Bloom’ initially meant to me.”

The first speaker was Cameron, surgeon-in-chief and professor of surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital. He discussed the potential of saving lives with the science of transplantation surgery and specifically focused on xenotransplantation, or the use of tissues or organs from a nonhuman, animal source.

He debated the benefits and concerns regarding the use of animal organs for transplant sources. Unlimited supply and ensured healthy donors make animal organs a preferable option, but he admitted that there were drawbacks, including immunologic and physiologic barriers, infectious risks, and ethical concerns.

“The question is: Just because we can do it, should we do it?” he said.

However, Cameron drew on the lived experiences of patients on lengthy transplant lists as the driving reason for his continued research in xenotransplantation. He referenced a school teacher in Baltimore who suffered from high blood pressure and diabetes; the comorbidities placed her on the bottom end of a kidney transplant waitlist. 

He emphasized that limited organ donation is a restricting factor that deters patients from getting proper treatment and spotlighted xenotransplantation as a way out.

“It may give us the solution to this refractory public health problem that has plagued our city and our country, and we are close enough to a point where we are going to struggle with the question 'Who goes first?',” he said.

The next speaker, Vayda, spoke on her love for conserving plants and nature. Vayda received her master's in Environmental Science and Policy from Hopkins and is the owner and operator of B.Willow, a specialty houseplant and flower shop in Remington.

Vayda highlighted how plant conservation is often overlooked compared to the protection efforts made for endangered, wild animals.

“As we know, putting value on animals puts them at risk for poaching in the wild. Plants are no different today,” she said. “The sale of houseplants should help conserve plants in the wild.”

Vayda offered her advice on the selection and purchase of houseplants. She recommended avoiding synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, as there is a large number of great products available that are made from sustainable ingredients and produced by small businesses that care about the product.

“If you are interested in rare plants, it's super important to know where your plants are coming from; always ask your suppliers where their plants are from, especially if you're shopping online,” she said.

Vayda spoke on her participation in the conservation of plants and partnering with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to better educate indoor plant enthusiasts about the illegal plant trade. She explained that she donates to the IUCN to help rescue illegally transported cacti.

“I've continued to donate about $1 from the sale of every cactus in the shop. It really has started to make me think [about if] other plant shops or nurseries were to do the same thing. Think about how much of an impact we can make,” she said. “Not even just financially; if shops or nurseries use their voice to educate their customers about plant poaching or even about all the environmental issues associated with the trade, collectively we could really make a huge difference.”

Chang — campus ambassador of Teach for America (TFA), an organization that works toward equitable education —was the third speaker. She spoke about the availability of educational resources in the Baltimore area and shared her experience with TFA.

She emphasized the importance of the work TFA does in marginalized communities. 

“We believe that equity starts by addressing the education system, but we also know that the inequities that our kids face don't only exist in the classroom setting; they occur across all sectors,” she said. “We hope to help bridge those gaps for them and help them move into college.”

Zaky, a 25-year-old Indonesian rhythm and blues singer and the final speaker, talked about her journey in the music industry and her path to self-love.

Zaky began her journey as a vocalist at a young age and could be seen performing for thousands around the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia. Zaky recalled her darkest times after going through breast surgery and losing the love of her life. 

“It ripped me to shreds. I was experiencing an internal darkness that I was convinced would never end. I didn't know whether I would ever heal, fall in love again or find my way back to my purpose. I was ready to give up on my dreams,” she said.

Zaky expressed gratitude for all the opportunities she had been given and shared details of her personal life, including how she overcame obstacles by transforming her pain and sorrow into strength and purpose.

“When there wasn't a seat at the table, I made one. When I was told no, I pivoted to find a yes. For every storm that came my way, it ended up cleaning my path,” she said. “In order to move forward and reach every chapter, you have to walk by faith and belief in yourself because that is what's going to keep you going. Just know that always your path is already ordained for you every step that you take.”

Freshman Michael Cao shared his thoughts on the event in an interview with The News-Letter.

“The speakers got completely unrelated topics, but all stories involved going through tough challenges followed by a hopeful bloom,” he said. “The first speaker showed us the bloom of hope in saving people’s lives with gene-edited animals, the second speaker introduced the ways to reduce harm involved in the industry of house plants to make them both bloom inside houses and bloom to a sustainable nature, and the last speaker revealed her great voice and her inspirational story of how she achieved today’s bloom.”

Steven Simpson is a Photo Editor for The News-Letter and Director of Technology and Multimedia for TEDxJHU. He did not contribute to the reporting, writing or editing of this article. 

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