Richard ’83 and Debra ’85 Siravo

Richard ’83 and Debra ’85 Siravo are the first Rhode Islanders ever to be named WebMD Health Heroes, and we couldn’t be more proud. WebMD, an American corporation that provides health information services, created the Heroes award to celebrate visionary Americans who have met a health challenge and have given back to others in an inspiring way. The Siravos certainly have done that.

When a prolonged epileptic seizure took the life of their 5-year-old son, Matty, they turned their grief into a fund to provide resources and information for other families dealing with epilepsy. “We wanted to take something horrific and turn it into something positive,” Debra Siravo said.

Since its beginning in 2003, The Matty Fund has raised $1.5 million to fund workshops, supports groups, a therapeutic horseback riding camp, epilepsy awareness programs in K-12 schools, and grants for scholarships and research projects committed to epilepsy prevention and advancement of new epilepsy discoveries.

Students at URI have been a big part of the effort. URI fraternities and sororities have volunteered countless hours of time at Matty’s Place, a local special needs playground. The Matty Fund has also become the charitable organization of choice for Greek Week proceeds. Freshmen in URI 101 classes have taken basic seizure first aid lessons, and have raised more than $60,000 over the past five years for the Matty Fund selling purple t-shirts. And students in the College of Business help out with the annual Matty Fund campaign kickoff.

So, the Siravos may be WebMD heroes, but they’re also local heroes, and URI heroes, doing powerful and important things in the community, and serving as excellent role models for URI students.



Almost all of the lower limb prostheses on the market today are passive devices that generate movement through the motion of the user’s body. They are awkward when transitioning from level ground to stairs, or navigating rough terrain. URI Engineering Professor Helen Huang has a better, bigger idea. She wants to create a powered artificial leg that can accurately read neuromuscular control signals from the user’s brain to anticipate movements and respond accordingly to prevent stumbles.