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Rachael Samonski
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September 20, 2022

For many physicians, the desire to help and serve others acts as their calling to the medical profession. The strenuous hours and work leave them with little time to pursue outside interests or the ability spend even more time developing ways to assist their communities.

Dr. Aparna Mele, a 14-year strategic partner of PE GI Solutions at the Berks Center for Digestive Health, has blended her passion for healthcare with her drive to improve her community by creating her own non-profit organization. Mele founded My Gut Instinct in 2013 with the objective of completing two major goals.

“Around 2012 I lost a really good friend,” Mele said. “He was a young doctor and the picture of health. At 38 years old he dropped dead of a heart attack. It was very shocking for me to find a contemporary friend who could look so good on the outside, but obviously be a ticking time bomb on the inside.

Combining that with the fact that I sort of relocated to this area, I had only been in practice a few years, and I happened to read a Gallup poll that Reading, in particular the town I live and work in, was ranked the number 10 most obese metro city in the nation and the number one ranking town for obesity in Pennsylvania. I found that incredibly shocking.”

The poll spurred Mele into action, creating an organization focused on providing health education beyond the confines of a doctor’s office, enabling community members to take charge of their health.

Mele described how the routine visit to a physician involves checking vitals and various boxes to ensure each patient remains healthy, but what about their inner health?

“[I wanted] to educate patients on those internal features that keep our outside healthy, and so I wanted to create a nonprofit, and through that, an event that could help people highlight all the features of health that we don’t always see in an office,” Mele said. “We could also help empower them to be a part of their wellness, because there’s only so much a provider can do in the office.”

My Gut Instinct’s annual event, the Guts and Glory Digestive & Wellness Expo, which is supported by the Penn State Berks Campus, aims to provide a family friendly outlet to help visitors understand not only the basics of eating properly and exercise, but to identify ways to enact new healthy habits and routines. This year’s expo is set to take place Sept. 24th this year at the Penn State Berks-Perkins Plaza. Mele added that she wanted the event to be informative and fun, and not a scolding for patients who may be delaying care, such as receiving their colonoscopy or getting a general medical check-up.

“There are educational booths to have deep one to one conversation with people in the industry, and I don’t just mean doctors. In fact, most people in the community who are there are not doctors. They are nutritionists, life coaches, therapists, acupuncturists, fitness experts, and personal trainers. They are just people who are experts in their health knowledge niche and can teach you how to be a part of your wellness in specific targeted ways”.

One of the highlights of the event is the Mega Colon, a fully interactive large-scale inflatable replica of the human colon, used to help visitors understand routine diseases of the intestine and how to prevent them.

With wellness experts, interactive exhibits, fresh produce and more on hand for visitors, Mele’s favorite component of the event is the pledge banner. The large paper banner found at the expo quickly becomes filled with the writings of visitors who share their experiences or pledge to take up a healthier lifestyle. Every year the banner features an open-ended health question to inspire a personal pledge of wellness. Mele explained a past banner read, “What is your healthy superpower?”. This year’s prompt will be, “How will I be a wellness warrior?”

“It’s beautiful at the end of the event to see this paper completely graffitied with what struck people to write,” Mele explained. “We have children writing, ‘I’m going to eat more cucumbers.’ I had a man write in Spanish, ‘I’m going to sing to my wife.’ Other vows captured: ‘I’m going to get a colonoscopy,’ ‘I’m going to run a 5K,’ ‘I’m going to breathe more,’ and it’s just amazing to sort of see what inspiration people derive from this incredibly inspirational, happy, beautiful event where people of all ages, demographics, and walks of life come together to celebrate the beauty of wellness.”

When asked about the future of the event, Mele plans to continue to host the event every year, and for it to remain locally to Reading, PA. She wants to help provide quality of life improvements that can make exercise and healthy eating more accessible to those in her community and make greater Berks County a healthier place to live.

“I do not have specific training in the field of public health [biostatistics, epidemiology, environmental health, health policy & administration, and social & behavioral sciences], but I felt compelled to create this forum as a physician and promote the concept that we as a community here in Berks County should care about every single one of our residents,” Mele said. “If we do, we could improve the economics of our town, we could increase our green spaces, we could lower healthcare dollars spent on obese sick patients, we could improve the productivity of our workers and drop unemployment, and we could have higher quality and healthy eateries, shops, and other community offerings in town.”

She added that every healthcare provider takes an oath, not only to treat disease, but to be a part of their patients’ overall longevity and physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Mele’s desire to go above and beyond her oath has benefited not only the community in which she works, but also honors the memory of her friend.

To learn more about My Gut Instinct and the Guts and Glory Digestive & Wellness Expo, click here.

To learn more about how PE GI Solutions can assist your GI practice or ASC, click here.