Dr. Youlan Tang works as a physician at the Bronx Lebanon hospital center where she is part of the house staff. She is also the founder of “Inspiration Bridge”, a global-interest charity that helps people from all over the world receive medical care. Interestingly, Youlan actually began her career as a professional ballet dancer and musician, having played piano and practiced ballet from the time that she was three years old. She was especially fond of ballet due to its elements of both music and movement. “I think, like music, is an art of giving – an exchange between performer and spectator,” she explained. “I wanted to use my talent and heart to give the audience pleasure, to bring to life the beauty of piano music and ballet and nothing gave me greater joy.”
Although Youlan loved to dance, her father was not pleased with her decision and she had to study extra hard and keep up an excellent academic record in order to continue her pursuit of ballet. During her years as a student, she performed at several venues and the experience made the hard work and effort worthwhile. “It was hard to be a dancer,” Youlan said. “I used to get up around 5am daily to practice and, of course, I was very concerned about my weight.” Despite these issues, she continued to actively pursue a career in ballet and hoped to perform at international venues.
Youlan’s experiences with ballet directly led to her medical career path when she was fifteen and was seriously hurt due to a fall. The injury was so dire that she was hospitalized and required surgery which ended her dance aspirations. “I was not able to return back to ballet and I felt angst and loss of meaning in my life,” Youlan stated. “I was lost and verged on tears most days lying in my hospital bed. But while I was there I spent some time with sick children on my floor who were suffering with cancers and, for the first time ever, I felt the closeness of death and the utter fragility and helplessness of the afflicted children. I changed at that moment. I wanted to help them more than anything.”
As a dancer, Youlan had long been aware of the injuries that frequently plague performers. Ligament tears, tendonitis, sprains, dislocations, fractures, and other muscle and bone ailments are all-to-common in both performance artists and athletes. Noting this, upon becoming a doctor, Youlan decided to go the extra step to establish an organization that would help people in need from all over the world—including people who have been injured whilst pursuing careers in dance, acrobatics, sports, martial arts, and more.
Youlan first got the idea to start her charity—ultimately called “Inspiration Bridge”—in 2015 after she helped a two-year-old little girl who suffered from retinoblastoma. “This family flew from China to Sloan Kettering Cancer Center NYC to get her Intra-ocular chemotherapy treatment which they couldn’t receive in China,” Youlan explained. “Her parents sold their houses, gathered all local charities donations plus any possible cashes they could borrow. They came here in USA and even with me beside them, their struggling is unbearable. That inspired me and several of my friends to start this charity. We want to bridge the gaps across the borders to help someone like this little girl.” Youlan certainly understands how wide the gaps between adequate and subpar healthcare can be between countries. Via her job as a doctor, she traveled the world and was astounded by how different the quality of care was from one country to another. There was also a huge injustice between the medical research, medical education, and clinical practices in poor countries versus rich ones.
The primary goal of the “Inspiration Bridge” charity is to provide better access to medical care to needy countries. Whilst keeping their regular jobs, Youlan and a dedicated team of caring individuals volunteer their time to expand services for international patients in need. This includes providing language support, housing support, medical specialist referrals, evaluation of medical cases, and supporting groups for the patients in NYC. “We are also into cultural diversity activities such as gala gathering events,” Youlan explained. “Many of these live events include music and dance. We are now developing monthly free healthy meal for cancer patients among different hospital wellness centers, a Yoga showcase and language classes.
Yoga is something that, as a retired dancer, Youlan holds in high regard. “Yoga is aiming to help athletes—who include dancers and acrobats—to recover from their injuries,” she explained. “We try to cooperate with medical suppliers and get some projects done. This is related to sports medicine and we hopefully can cooperate with well-known sport medicine specialists and related medical industry professionals to help people who have been injured as a result of dancing or pursuing other artistic endeavors.” Injuries sustained to dancers, circus performers, and stunt-people are fairly common but often overlooked—especially in developing countries. In poor nations, it is not unheard of for professional performing artists to be maimed for life due to injuries that are either untreated or under-treated and subsequently do not heal correctly. Youlan is hopeful that Inspiration Bridge can help decrease the instances of these occurrences.
To date, Inspiration Bridge has helped four patients with ailments ranging from cancer to infertility. The majority of people in need of these services hail from developing countries such as China, Latin America, and the Middle East. “We hopefully can go to some African countries. Soon,” Youlan declared. “There are many people there who need our help. Although, to be honest, every health system is the product of that country’s history, politics, and culture’ none are perfect. While many people in USA are struggling to get covered people in UK are complaining the waiting periods.”
On January 26, 2017, the organization hosted its first fundraising event called “We Get Together”. The event was held at the Church of the Holy Apostles in Manhattan and featured live jazz orchestrated by the famed Big Band Jazz group led by Grammy-Award nominee Migiwa Miyajima, a Japanese composer. The evening was very successful and truly illustrated the charity’s dedication to bridging up the cultural diversity and disparities in medical treatment between various countries and regions of the world.
Youlan Tang is very hopeful that her charity will expand greatly in the coming years. She is actively working on establishing a NYC-based cultural diversity and wellness program that will include yoga, healthy diet and lifestyle information, cultural activities, and many more international patients. “We hope to provide many services that act as mediator between hospitals and physicians in NYC,” she proclaimed. “From an international point of view, we want to stabilize some partnership with local medical schools and medical centers in every country—continuously sending medical specialists to these developing countries to train more local physicians.” And, as always, dance is never far from her mind. “We would love to establish a program to send sports medicine specialists and orthopedic specialist to developing countries to train more local physicians about how to help injured performers,” she said. “Also, if a dancer in NYC get injured during performance we are happy to provide supporting groups for these patients, such as emotional support and more. Right now, we also have a Yoga-based wellness project to aid recovery. We want to do more soon but, for now, we have some great services in place already.”