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Holly Forlenza and Eileen Forlenza, a nonverbal motivational speaker and her mother, both advocates for family involvement in health care, will present the January 2019 Vanderbilt University School of Nursing (VUSN) Dean’s Diversity Lecture on Monday, January 14, 2019.

Their lecture titled “From Try to Triumph: The Journey of a Nonverbal Young Adult” will be open to the Vanderbilt community. Holly Forlenza is unable to speak and was diagnosed with severe mental retardation, epilepsy, and failure to thrive when she was 2 years old. In 2011, when she was 22, she began using an iPad and keyboard to communicate and has since become an advocate for the empowerment of nonverbal people. Her book, Just Because I Can’t Talk Doesn’t Mean I Don’t Have Anything to Say, tells her story and calls for inclusion and compassion.

Her mother, Eileen Forlenza, has been Holly’s advocate from her birth. Her personal experience with parenting and dealing with the health care, education, care coordination, and insurance systems has made her an expert in speaking on the importance of family engagement. Her advocacy and support of policy development on behalf of children with disabilities resulted in an invitation from President Barack Obama to join him at the White House to mark the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Linda D. Norman, DSN, FAAN, VUSN dean, and the Valere Potter Menefee Professor of Nursing, tells Nursing.Vanderbilt.edu, “Patient- and family-centered care improves patients’ health and the quality of health care. Yet as Holly and Eileen Forlenza can attest, sometimes people with disabilities don’t have a voice in their own care decisions – and sometimes the family’s knowledge and input aren’t utilized. I think the Forlenzas’ personal perspectives will challenge our assumptions and encourage us to consider patient and family care differently.”

The VUSN Dean’s Diversity Lecture Series was established in 2016 to explore the diversity of backgrounds, cultures, ideas, and viewpoints in our world today. It seeks to equip students, faculty, staff, and other community members with the knowledge and understanding needed to lead nursing forward in a global society.

To learn more about Holly and Eileen Forlenza, VUSN’s next diversity series lecturers, visit here.

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