Ananya Vahal; Saving One Lung at a Time

Image courtesy of Hrishikesh Bhattar.

I had the chance to catch up with Ananya Vahal, MFA writing student at SCAD Atlanta. Ananya started a nonprofit called The Sid Foundation that's dedicated to raising funds and awareness for lung transplant research. She also wrote a comic book about a character she and a sequential artist developed called Lung Girl as promotion for the cause. Ananya has graciously shared her story about what it takes to run a nonprofit and what spreading awareness for lung research means to her.  

Lung Girl comic book trailer by Ananya Vahal. Comic by Ananya Vahal and Humberto Zugasti. 

Kate Betts: Could you tell me a little about where the idea for Lung Girl came from? 

Ananya Vahal: The concept of Lung Girl was first inspired by The Sid Foundation's logo which is a pair of lungs. I had on an athletic tank top with The Sid Foundation logo on it while working out one day and my boyfriend referred to me as "lung girl" because of the huge pair of lungs I had on the front of my tank top. From there I just began to imagine a superhero called 'Lung Girl' and came up with the comic book story. I wanted it to be educational and targeted towards children. I was lucky enough to find an amazing artist (Humberto Zugasti) who understood my vision and made it come to life. KB: What's Lung Girl about? How does the comic support The Sid Foundation? 

AV: Lung Girl is a twelve year-old Indian girl with superpowers. Her powers include extraordinary lung capacity and super strength. She also has a side-kick called Ecmo. ECMO is actually an acronym for a type of technology used to keep lung transplant patients alive until they are able to get new lungs so I thought it made a good name for a robot side-kick. So, Lung Girl and Ecmo go around the world saving people from lung issues. The first comic focuses on pollution and how it affects lungs. This supports my nonprofit, The Sid Foundation, because the mission of my foundation is to raise funds and awareness for lung transplant research. Lung Girl comics help raise awareness by educating children about lung health and it raises funds because all of the money we raise from selling Lung Girl comics and merchandise go to support lung transplant research. KB: How did you start up The Sid Foundation? What's the goal of your nonprofit? 

AV: My brother had a lung transplant when he was 26 years old. He passed away due to lung transplant complications when he was 29 on May 18, 2014. A year after he passed away my parents and I decided we wanted to keep his memory alive by helping others in the same situation. I had no experience in business or nonprofits, so I took a lot of advice from my father, who owns a couple of businesses. I read tons of books on nonprofits to make sure I got the paperwork done correctly, I got some legal advice from Legalzoom.com and I just kept going from there. The first six months or so were pretty much just trying to get all the paperwork done. There is so much paperwork! Lung transplants have the lowest survival rate of all organ transplants. There are many diseases that can cause people to need a lung transplant like COPD, Cystic Fibrosis, Pulmonary Hypertension and many more. There needs to be more research done on how to help lung transplant patients increase their chances of survival and live healthy, normal lives. Right now there just isn't that much information out there about lung transplants so we hope to change that by raising money for specific hospitals who have been working hard to save lives with the latest lung transplant research. We are currently working with the Albert B. Chandler University of Kentucky hospital's lung transplant program since they were the ones who saved Sid's life the first time around and they have an exceptional lung transplant program. KB: What's been the most challenging part about starting up a nonprofit? What's been the most rewarding? 

AV: Honestly, everything about starting a nonprofit is challenging when you have no experience. But it is challenging in a good way because when I'm able to figure out one step it makes me excited about learning more. Every step I have taken to build this nonprofit has been a learning experience. The most rewarding part, of course, has to be the tremendous support I've received from family, friends and the SCAD writing department. I know it sounds cheesy but it really makes all the hard work and challenges worthwhile when I see how much people care about what I do. I also get to talk to lung transplant patients and doctors who always inspire me and remind me why I'm doing what I'm doing. KB: What have you learned from your experience starting The Sid Foundation and working on Lung Girl

AV: I have so many skills now that I didn't have before. As I mentioned, I've learned a lot about paperwork and the IRS. I've learned how to build and maintain a reasonable website (I know it could be so much better). I've created my own logo by learning some graphic design skills using Adobe Illustrator. I learned how to hire people to do the things I don't have time to learn. I've learned how to market on social media. I've learned how to manage a budget, and most of all I've learned how to reach out and connect with people so I can make them aware and get them to care about what I'm doing. Through Lung Girl, I learned how to write a comic book (my first time), the process of printing comics, self-publishing on Amazon, creating digital comics for Kindle and collaborating with another artist to make sure we have the same vision. The foundation is less than a year old so I'm excited to learn so much more! KB: Any advice for people looking to start a nonprofit? 

AV: I haven't been doing this for very long but what I've learned so far is that if you want to start a nonprofit, make sure it's something you are REALLY passionate about because it is hard work and you have to have a genuine reason for why you are doing it outside of yourself. Find a mentor. Although my father's businesses aren't nonprofits, I have an invaluable amount of help and guidance from him when it comes to the confusing things like paperwork and accounting. I'm not very good with that stuff. Don't be afraid to reach out to friends, family, coworkers, professors, anyone you know for help and/or donations. They will be more than willing to help if it is for a good cause. One thing that helps me stay motivated is surrounding myself with positive people who are full of inspiration and ideas and also reading books and listening to podcasts by successful people to learn from the struggles they went through to become successful. For more information about The Sid Foundation or Lung Girl visit www.thesidfoundation.org or check them out on Facebook