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Alumni, 2016 TedX

Melissa Frascella returns to give address at
   TEDx Binghamton University

By Eric Coker

As a Harpur College student, Melissa Frascella ’11 elected to pursue her own field of study through Harpur’s Individualized Major Program.

“I decided that starting from scratch and building my own major couldn’t be that difficult, despite what some people told me,” Frascella said. “There is a difference between difficult and challenging, so I chose to accept the challenge.”

Frascella’s health communications major combined her three passions: health and wellness; writing; and a desire to be linked to “this massive world around me.”

“This officially marked the beginning of my journey as a public-health advocate,” she said. “I am living and breathing all-things-public-health. It is something that is so connected to everything I do both personally and professionally.”

Frascella is now manager of U.S. accounts for Medikidz, the world’s first global brand that uses comic books to explain medicine to children. She brought a message of empowerment to TEDxBinghamtonUniversity on March 20 through her talk: “Defying the constraints of ‘supposed to.’”

“It’s 2016 and somehow the majority of us sitting in this room probably feel a sense of pressure to live our lives a certain way,” she said. “All because of this apparent norm of ‘supposed to.’”

Frascella was one of eight speakers at TEDxBinghamtonUniversity, which was held in the packed Osterhout Concert Theater. The “Flip the Script” lineup also featured:

Kyrin Pollock and Matthew Gill, Binghamton University sophomores: “The reality of virtual reality.”

Ellen Stofan, chief scientist of NASA and principal advisor to NASA’s administrator on the agency’s science programs: “Are we alone?”

Samar Habib, writer, researcher and scholar: “Let the scholar speak, even if it scares you.”

Mason Wartman, entrepreneur, philanthropist and founder of Rosa’s Fresh Pizza in Philadelphia: “Improving your community through focus and persistence.”

Akili Tommasino, curatorial assistant in the Department of Painting and Sculpture at The Museum of Modern Art in New York: “Get high [culture].”

Bakari Kitwana, a journalist and activist in the area of hip-hop activism, youth culture and young voter political participation: “The Ferguson Effect.”

The dance group Binghamton Bhangra performed during intermission and received an enthusiastic reception from the crowd of students and community members.

Founded in 2009, Medikidz uses five superheroes from “Mediland” to explain medical conditions, surgeries and diagnoses to children and their families. There are now more than three-dozen comic books in circulation.

Educating children had long been a barrier in public health, Frascella said.

“How are we supposed to talk about medical conditions with children?” she asked. “Should we talk with them like adults because that’s who all the medical information has been geared toward? Should we ‘dumb it down’ because that’s how we are supposed to talk to children? Are parents supposed to not tell their child why they are getting another blood test or another MRI?

“Kids need to understand medicine, illness and health and wellness in their language, at their level and in a way that’s fun, exciting and energetic, but friendly and educational at the same time.”

Frascella introduced the audience to Hunter and Kumaka – two young boys with spina bifida. In the video, the boys talk about how they play at the skate park and elsewhere despite having one of the common, disabling birth defects in the United States.

“Both of these boys have channeled their inner superheroes to learn about their medical conditions and better understand what is going on inside their bodies,” Frascella said. “They feel more confidant about who they are. The fear of the unknown has been vacated.”

Frascella also shared a story about two sixth-graders in New Jersey who used the Medikidz comic books in a school presentation about having epilepsy. A fellow student in the audience heard the talk and bought the comic book. The girl and her mother recognized some of the symptoms.

“The next day, the girl was taken to the hospital and diagnosed with juvenile myoclonic epilepsy,” she said. “Because of the comic book and the empowerment of her fellow classmates, she was able to listen to what her body was telling her. Maybe that day she was ‘supposed to’ attend a school assembly. Instead, she assisted with her diagnosis.”

Frascella urged the audience members to break away from stereotypes and not be constrained by the phrase “supposed to.”

“Hunter, Kumaka and the brave students in New Jersey have all been given a voice of empowerment to rise above their challenges every day,” she said. “Despite the diagnoses and the adversity they face, they are true to who they are.”

The lessons learned from Medikidz comic books can be applied to most people no matter how healthy they are, Frascella said.

“As long as you are passionate in the present, you will feel as fulfilled in your career as I do,” she said. “Earn the salary you truly deserve, not the salary that’s been predisposed to you. Marry the person you love, even if they are not the same gender, race, ethnicity or religion. As long as you channel the superhero inside of yourself, you will not be disappointed.”

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Last Updated: 3/1/17