Chris and Janis Hansen
Twins Gavin and Gabriel Hansen after a difficult surgery that collapsed some malfunctioning blood vessels.
Chris and Janis Hansen both have degrees from BYU in health-related fields, but they've learned the most profound lessons about medicine, technology, and research outside the classroom. A year ago, the couple found they were pregnant with twins, happy news that their obstetrician nevertheless combined with a recommendation that they get in touch with a team of perinatologists, doctors specifically trained in high-risk obstetrics, in the unlikely event that medical complications should arise.
Chris Hansen(CENTER) with fellow-students(L-R) Heather Stutz, Michelle Barney, and Keith Tanner in Nevada's Great Basin where they studied threatened habitats.
The perinatologists soon made an alarming discovery. Instead of distributing nutrients equally between the twins, malfunctioning blood vessels in the shared placenta were diverting nutrients from one fetus and deluging the other with more fluid than his developing heart could handle. If the situation continued, the twins would not survive. The timely detection of Twin-to-Twin Transfusion Syndrome (TTTS) and the subsequent performance of a risky, innovative procedure ultimately gave Chris and Janis two healthy boys and a renewed desire to join the ranks of healthcare professionals who make such miracles possible.
Today, as five-month-old Gavin and Gabriel chatter in the background, the couple expresses appreciation for a team of "phenomenal" doctors who performed a surgery that saved their twins despite discouraging odds. Because TTTS affects such a small percentage of pregnancies, the medical knowledge surrounding it is scarce, so much so that Janis and Chris acknowledge their fortune in connecting with two of only a handful of doctors who can perform a highly technical surgery, a surgery that carries a high risk of complication and failure. Fortunately, Drs. Michael Ball and Michael Belfort of St. Mark's Hospital in Salt Lake City performed the procedure flawlessly.
Using a scope, a laser, and a camera, the doctors collapsed the blood vessels responsible for the diversion of blood from one twin to the other. A bioinformatics major, Chris appreciates the combination of research, technology, and skill that went into the successful procedure. "It was an engineering feat," he says.
Chris and his wife Janis will both pursue health-related career because of their experience they had with their twins
The fetuses began to resume normal growth and development patterns, and although born six weeks early, the twins are healthy and growing. "There aren't many days that go by that we don't think how lucky we were to have the surgery and how grateful we are for those doctors," Janis says. As Chris completes a summer internship at the National Institutes of Health, he recognizes the procedure as invaluable education for the doctors involved. "For us, the surgery was a success, which makes us grateful for the ones that went before," he says. "Many of the earlier procedures did not have this successful outcome, but they did allow the doctors to learn, and they learned more as they performed the surgery for us."
The ability to learn and to apply that education to blessing lives is what motivates Janis and Chris to dedicate themselves to health-related, research based fields. With a B.S. in nursing, Janis has enrolled in a master's program at George Washington University to become a nurse practitioner. Chris is completing applications to medical school, where he plans to earn an MD/Ph.D. Because a team of highly qualified, compassionate, and innovative doctors touched their lives forever, they feel passionate about giving that same kind of care to other patients. "This experience has given me a greater sense of the good that doctors–armed with research and technology–are able to do," Chris says. Nothing like twins to change your life.
Phylicia Gawu, a native of Ghana, West Africa, is a senior at BYU, majoring in clinical laboratory science. She plans to attend medical school and return home to Africa to help others in her country. "At an early age I had to watch my family go through a lot of health problems," Gawu says. "The hospital or the health center just seemed so inadequate. This became very apparent when I came to the U.S. That was when I decided the medical field would be a way I could contribute back to society. I have always loved the sciences, so I thought, ‘Well, I can contribute, and I would love doing it, too.'"
Her love for the sciences and a desire to help others extends to her undergraduate research. For the past two years she has worked with Dr. Kim
L. O'Neill among others, researching breast cancer. "Our lab developed a monoclonal antibody that targets breast cancer," Gawu explains. "We believe it targets the tissues before they metastasize or turn into cancer. It can even detect cancer before the pathologist detects it."
Dr. Kim O'Neil prepared Phylicia well for her presentation at the Association of Minority Health Professions.>
Recently Gawu had the opportunity to present her work in New Orleans at the Association of Minority Health Professions. In preparation for her poster presentation Gawu received support from Dr. O'Neill and the lab. They helped her put together her presentations and held question- answer panel sessions, so she could explain her research to any audience. "At the conference they asked me a lot of questions," Gawu says, "but they weren't as brutal as the questions from the lab and Dr. O'Neill."
Gawu's hard work and preparation paid off. The conference held at Xavier was a competition with over a thousand abstracts, and she received first place for her poster presentation. "There was a lot of impressive research there," she says. "By no means did I think I'd win, but Dr. O'Neill prepared me well. Without his encouragement I probably wouldn't have gone. It's nice to have somebody else who believes in you in addition to your parents."
Brett Alldredge, from Magna, Utah recently graduated from BYU and began his first year at Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences. As an undergraduate, Alldrege majored in neuroscience. "I didn't have an idea what I was going to major in before I got to BYU," he says. "I was led to science in general because it was so practical, and science, especially medical science, can create real solutions to real problems."
The path to the sciences also led him to work in Dr. David D. Busath's lab. "My mentored experience was very valuable," Alldredge says. "It gave me the chance to learn research, to learn science, how it works and what goes on." And learn he did. Within his first six months in the lab Alldrege read
Gap junctions, the subject of Brett's paper, are connectors between cells that can play a role in human disease. [Research slide: Brett Alldredge>
more than a hundred articles from science journals to determine what he wanted to research and to better understand what was going on in the lab. "Working with Dr. Busath was great for me because he gave me a lot of space," he says. "He expected me to kind of pursue my own path, under his jurisdiction."
Alldredge continued to read and think. Over time his ideas evolved until he thought he had a project in mind worth pursing. Apparently, it was a good project. By the time he graduated in April, the Journal of Clinical Pathology had accepted his paper on gap junctions for publication. "I was really surprised," he says. "I read my e-mail ten times before I decided I could smile about it." He is still smiling.