Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Incredible Alumni: Shannon Toews Potter

Shannon Toews Potter graduated from LETU in 2006 with a Bachelor's degree in biology. She went on to attend the University of Texas School of Medicine, followed by a residency at St. Louis University School of Medicine, where she was named Best Teaching Resident. She now lives in Congo and works as an OB/GYN and Director of Maternity Services with Samaritan's Purse World Medical Mission. She spends her days bettering the lives of women and children and making LETU proud to call her an alumna.

What does an average day look like for you?
Shannon Toews Potter
The light from the sun and the sound of the community wake us around 6:00 a.m. I go in to the hospital at 7:00 a.m., discuss and treat patients with other doctors or medical students, and do surgery three times a week. We have a two hour lunch break and then it's back to the hospital until 5:00 p.m. Dinners are usually shared with another missionary family. It's a small community and easier to cook for a few extra than to cook every night. We have a gardener and house help, which replace the dishwasher or lawnmower that most people in the US have and gives people in the community a very respected job. In the evenings, we occasionally listen to a podcast, watch a movie, prepare teaching lessons for the next day, make homemade ice cream or play a board game. We are board game nerds and brought over 40 pounds in games.

What are some of your responsibilities in your current position?
Responsibilities include performing surgeries three days a week, participating in official teaching meetings and patient rounds with medical students and residents three times a week, improving the structure and quality of care in the maternity ward, seeing patients, performing and teaching ultrasound techniques and teaching nurses newborn resuscitation.

Describe a high point in your career since graduating from LeTourneau. 
I was named Best Teaching Resident out of all residents and fellows at St. Louis University, as voted by the medical students and received the medical student teaching award specifically for OB/GYN three times during residency. Passing on knowledge to the next generation is such a joy to me and being recognized for my efforts was very special.

How is your LeTourneau education benefitting your current position?
It's more often who you know that matters, rather than what you know. As I continued to add layers of knowledge in medical school, it is hard to know exactly when I learned specific information that I use every day, but the people I know from my time at LETU continue to benefit me. For instance, a fellow LETU student connected me with someone in admissions at the medical school I went to (it's hard to get in to a Texas medical school when one is from out-of-state). LETU professors and alumni support us financially and prayerfully as we are on the mission field. Some even promised that support over eight years before it happened! I email a fellow classmate surgical questions I need second opinions on. A former LETU professor visited us in language school in France and we are even working with LETU alumni here in Congo. The network of people, nerdy–ahem–smart enough to have taught or graduated from LETU is also crazy enough to follow God's call on their life, be that here in Congo, an oilfield in the Middle East, the business place in China, a farm in Texas, or giving back by teaching other LETU students.

What would you say to a current LETU student in your same major? What would you say to someone considering the same major? 
Dr. Jarstfer, then the dean and also my professor for many of my biology courses, counseled me not to settle. That's different for everyone, but don't settle just for lack of trying. If you can go for a PA or MPH or Master's level, don't settle with a Bachelor's. If you can go for an MD, DO, or Doctorate, then don't settle for an MPH, a Master's level or a PA. Get to the highest level you can that will open the doors that you don't even see yet. You won't regret it.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Zika in Texas: What You Need to Know

With the recent Zika virus diagnosis in Texas, many of the state's residents have questions about the disease. Addressing your concerns is Professor and Chair of LETU's Department of Biology Dr. Greg Frederick. Dr. Frederick has over 35 years of experience as a biologist, has been professionally published more than a dozen times and has been awarded multiple professional honors and research grants. 

There’s been a confirmed diagnosis of Zika virus in Texas. Should Texans be concerned?
There are two different genres of mosquitos that can harbor Zika virus that are endemic to Texas. If a patient comes to this area, is bit by a mosquito and the mosquito bites you, then theoretically, it can be transmitted to you. How likely is that? The cases worldwide still aren’t enormous. I don’t think we need to be overly concerned about it.

There are two main mechanisms for protection. Don’t have standing pools of water around your home. Mosquitos like to grow anywhere water can be trapped. Use insecticide. As far as general transmission, at this point in time, there’s no indication that the mosquito population of Texas has been vastly affected.

There have been reports that the larvicide pyriproxyfen might actually be causing microcephaly. Do you think this is a reliable claim? 
I would encourage sticking with more credible sources. There are WHO documents supporting the use of pyriproxyfen in water in many nations further back than 2008. These birth defects have not been reported in other areas. Therefore, I do not believe this larvicide as possibly causative should be discussed at this point. 

Texas had an Ebola scare recently; is this more or less of a threat?
Both infections cause very serious devastation but the impact is very different. Ebola can very easily kill an adult, whereas Zika virus is much less likely to do so. It has much more impact on a developing fetus. It’s really only a concern for women who are pregnant, and especially in the early stages of pregnancy. It can cause abnormalities in development such as microcephaly.

Zika virus isn’t new. Because of advanced surveillance systems, we can now detect disease more effectively. That creates a larger knowledge base but also tends to give the media ammunition for hysteria. If you’re not on the border or the Gulf Coast area, I don’t think you need to worry about it nearly as much as the media implies. We’ll see how things progress as the climate warms up this summer. Avoid being bit by mosquitoes as much as possible, though; I’d be more worried about West Nile than Zika.

What areas of Texas are most at risk?
Areas close to the Mexican border and Gulf Coast areas. Moisture and humidity that makes for potential breeding grounds are at risk. However, it can be transmitted anywhere if an infected person travels into that area and is bitten by mosquitoes.

What are the symptoms of Zika virus?
The symptoms seem to be very minor: fever, headache. Most people who are infected don’t even realize they have it. For adults, the immune system will take care of it within a few weeks. It shouldn’t be a problem after that period of time. If you’re anyone other than a pregnant woman, it’s not a major cause for concern.

The good side of the coin is, as more people become infected and the immune system deals with the virus, there are less potential hosts for the virus to transmit into the mosquito population. We see that with a lot of the diseases–humans get it and then become protected from the virus. It’s essentially a natural vaccination process.

Do pregnant women go through this natural vaccination process?
There’s a real complication with that because a fetus has little functional immunity. Once the virus gets into the fetus, it has some passive immunity from antibodies that are passed from the mother through the placenta to the fetus. However, unless the mother was infected prior to pregnancy and already developed immunity, it will take seven to ten days for her to develop antibodies to the virus. By then, the virus has already had a lot of time to infect the fetus and cause devastation. If the mother had been exposed previous and developed immunity, the fetus should be protected by this passive immunity.

Taking precaution against mosquito-borne disease is never a bad idea, especially for pregnant women. Stock up on insecticide, then visit www.letu.edu/biology to learn about STEM career fields.