Sruti Bandlamuri’s love of storytelling started with a teacup and a banana — or so she has been told.
The two objects apparently starred in random stories Sruti, now 17, told as a 2- to-3-year-old living in India with her grandparents.
Now a Catalina Foothills High School senior, Sruti finds her interest in stories unchanged, even as her passion for health care has grown.
“A lot of it comes from friends who are different than me, but also my mom is a doctor, and I would spend all of my holidays and all of my summers when I was little at her clinic,” Sruti says. “I would be there and talk to people all the time. ... I think that’s where my love of conversation and trying to understand people came from. I was like 8 and so bored.”
Specifically, Sruti has become interested in “understanding people with neurodevelopmental disorders” — a passion she attributes to life surrounded by cousins, neighbors and friends with autism.
She volunteers at two University of Arizona research units, where she has helped with research on autism, spina bifida and necrotizing enterocolitis.
When Sruti started volunteering at the UA’s Pediatric Multidisciplinary Research Unit about a year ago, the only role available was as a proxy.
“We had this pilot study we were doing seeing if dogs had any effect on the socialization of kids with autism, so she had to play with the kids without speaking to them,” says Jennifer Andrews, the manager of the unit.
Sruti has also had the chance to contribute to a research paper on spina bifida through the UA’s Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities program. The paper is in peer review, and Sruti’s name is on it, she says.
“She just has such a positive outlook on everything and still has that drive to change the world,” Andrews says. “We all want to maintain that, but when we run into bureaucracy, it goes away a little bit. She really believes and wants to make a big difference in the world.”
In 2014, Sruti raised about $7,500 for autism research through her Indian classical dance performance known as an Arangetram — a roughly four-hour dance showcasing years of practice.
In Sruti’s case, she’s been practicing since the age of 5.
“We do a huge graduation dance, and to mine, more than 600 people came, and you get a bunch of gifts for it,” she says.
Instead of accepting gifts, Sruti took donations for autism research at the UA. She has seen personally even the small effects research can have.
“Just from researching alone, on that first day, I understood so much more about the condition, and that helped me understand the people more, and I think that’s really important,” Sruti says.
She also started a website for the same purpose. On her site TheOutpatient.org, she posts interviews with physicians, nurses and patients in an attempt to better understand health care. She also writes for the mental health awareness blog Young Minds Advocacy.
Still undecided about what she might study in college, she is leaning toward pursuing medicine as a doctor. But she hasn’t dismissed the humanities — the sharing of stories, the creating of empathy.
“It’s rewarding to talk to these people and understand them,” she says. “It opens my eyes to more diverse points of view.”