Avani Gunuganti’s Journey




Making a Difference with Empathy: Avani Gunuganti’s Journey

by Michelle Vasquez


Avani Gunuganti, a senior at Saint Mary’s Hall High School, represents the future of the next generation, and the future is bright. As the co-founder of the AMMA Foundation, a breast cancer researcher, and an aspiring doctor, she does not shy away from difficult subjects but embraces them with curiosity and compassion.


In addition to her academic and philanthropic endeavors, she plays varsity tennis, serves on the student council, and finds time for creative outlets like knitting. However, her real passion may surprise you – it’s palliative care in hospice.


Avani began her journey in eighth grade, volunteering for an organization called Guiding Light Hospice. Hospice care provides comfort to patients who choose not to pursue curative treatments when the side effects outweigh the benefits. Avani believes hospice care centers on ensuring dignity in death and strives to honor this principle throughout the care process.


Initially, Avani created gifts for patients and wrote notes and letters of bereavement for them and their families. Her involvement grew into shadowing nurses’ visits to see patients, offering comfort and companionship, and fostering unique bonds with them through shared stories and moments. “It’s sort of a two-way connection, learning about their lives, and my goal is that it brings them some sort of happiness in their day,” says Avani.


The AMMA Foundation emerged from a need to address misunderstandings about hospice care, emphasizing the dignity of patients in their final days. Avani and CEO Monica Narvaez Trust of Guiding Light Hospice co-founded the AMMA Foundation in May 2023.


Avani advocates that while society often prioritizes finding cures, it overlooks the quality of life. “Hospice care,” she clarifies, “isn’t about surrendering to disease but about enhancing the remaining moments in life.”


In her opinion, society focuses on cures because they perceive that a cure will allow them to live a longer and higher quality of life, not realizing that treatment sometimes causes more discomfort in their last days versus being spent more peacefully with their families. In her mind, hospice is not about giving up; it is about maximizing the life and moments that a patient has left.


“I think one of the most important things about hospice is that while there is much joy in life, something we so often overlook is joy in the face of death. Finding that joy in our last moments is just as important as finding joy in any other moment of our lives,” she says.


The AMMA Foundation focuses on two critical areas: raising awareness about hospice care and improving access to these services. The foundation launched with the first memorial and awareness walk, where people were invited to walk and remember their loved ones, providing a safe space for people to reflect on the lives of those lost. They also work to raise money to provide for any patient or family needs that may otherwise go unfulfilled due to finances. Future plans include addressing housing for visiting family members.


“For those interested in learning more or wishing to contribute, visit www.amma-foundation.org. The name ‘AMMA,’ meaning ‘mother,’ reflects the foundation’s commitment to nurturing patients at life’s end, akin to a mother’s love for her children.”


Avani takes ownership of her contributions and values education highly. “What I can do here as a student is just educate other people around me, other students who are willing to learn.”


Avani’s reflections reveal the compassion driving her efforts. This genuine empathy for others’ wellbeing is what drives her to continue her work, aspiring to bring comfort and joy in the most vulnerable moments.


In her own words, “I just feel very empowered to keep going every time I see a milestone met, the number of people that we’re able to help, and feeling like we’ve made a difference touches me greatly. I want to do it for even more people, expanding further.”



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