We are pleased to announce the 2018 Roman Jax Nguyen Scholarship recipients.

Avery’s Angels® Gastroschisis Foundation is pleased to award both Leah Watson and Sanika Rane with the 2018 Roman Jax Nguyen Scholarship in the amount of $500 for their college studies in medical sciences. In addition, AAGF has selected Ariel Burns as an honorary recipient to receive a partial scholarship in the amount of $250 for her future studies of Radiologic and Imaging Sciences.

We carefully review applications annually for someone who is an exemplary candidate, someone who not only is academically excellent, but also actively and authentically engaged in their community in a positive way. From each of the recipients’ records, it is abundantly clear that both of these areas are a part of their passion.

Avery’s Angels® Gastroschisis Foundation is dedicated to providing unconditional support, promoting awareness and research on a global scale. Our commitment to each family, patient and effort no matter where they are is something we hold as a mantra. When reflecting the memory of one of our fallen patients, it is even more important that this standard is exemplified in anything we attach our name to.

It is clear to the committee that our luck is hardly needed. The recipients letters of recommendations, resumes and letters of intent show all the dedication and commitment of highly successful individuals. It is with all of our best wishes that we award these scholarships to Leah Watson, Sanika Rane, and Ariel Burns.

Leah Watson – Personal Statement and Essay

“We must remember that intelligence is not enough. Intelligence plus character—that is the goal of true education.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Intelligence, King claims, can get us only so far in life. Intelligence is a raw material that each of us are born with, but if we do not hone and craft our intelligence, it cannot help us. To successfully realize our goals, our character must guide our intelligence so that we make decisions that align with our moral values. Perusing daily news feeds reveals a multitude of individuals, many of whom are highly intelligent, who are motivated by corrupt values rather than by an ethical character: money, power, greed, and other debased principles. If we use our intelligence for these selfish personal gains, then education is meaningless. The key to building our character successfully is, as King asserts, an education backed by a strong character, which gives us a foundation on which we can build throughout our lives.

Like Martin Luther King, Jr., I intend for my education to take my intelligence and mold it to strengthen my character. I have found that education has shaped and strengthened my character to focus on others rather than myself. From a young age, I have been drawn to helping others. I was born with gastroschisis, a birth defect that causes a baby’s intestines to develop outside of the body. Although I survived this ordeal, the scar on my stomach, where most people have their belly button, serves as a reminder of my good fortune: I survived gastroschisis, while many do not. As a newborn baby, I couldn’t help myself; my parents, who are not doctors, could not help me either. If the doctor who saved my life hadn’t had the desire, the character, or the intelligence to help children like me, then I would not be alive today. I am fortunate enough to have my life; I want to give other people that same chance. Becoming a doctor will allow me to help other people in a way that I can connect to my own life experiences.

My desire to help others, coupled with a passion for biology that I have developed in high school, has led to my decision to go into the medical field. Winning this scholarship will help me fund my college education, which is necessary on my path to earning an MD. By attending a four-year university and obtaining an undergraduate degree, I will hone my intelligence in a way that develops my character by shaping it and giving it direction. A degree in biology will develop the skills I will need to go to medical school: lab, practical, and technical. The ability to study systems and see how they work together will help me further my education and understand the controversies that lie at the heart of many medical issues in today’s world. Education will broaden my understanding of the world and help my character grow, bridging the gap between intellect and moral dilemmas so that I will be prepared to face the ethical disputes that will continue to plague the medical field.

In addition, the experiences I will gain from receiving a post-secondary education will strengthen my understanding of the people who will one day become my patients, so that I can treat them with a greater sense of empathy and compassion. A substantial knowledge of the physical bodies of those I will be treating is important, but understanding the emotions motivating these people is critical if I am to be truly successful in this profession. In college, I look forward to the service opportunities I will encounter; the relationships I will build with my professors and peers; the extracurricular activities I will participate in. Although I will learn more about the way the physical body works in the classroom, the relationships I will form with my peers and professors will help me understand people on an emotional level. Each of my experiences in college will help me fulfill the purpose of my education, for which Martin Luther King, Jr. set the standard: My intelligence and character will grow together, and I will grow more capable of staying true to the values I live by.

Sanika Rane – Personal Statement and Essay

Though I have always been passionate about service and medicine, I never realized how passionate I was about public health and global health until I began taking classes as an undergraduate student at Rice University. I became a Kinesiology (Health Sciences) major and I even added a Global Health Technologies minor after realizing that to, often, address a serious public health issue, I would need to develop the solution myself. Studying this minor at Rice University prepares me with skills in problem-solving, engineering, and implementation. Within this minor, I was required to take a class in biomedical design. It was in this class that I found out what gastroschisis was.

In high school, I regularly volunteered at local hospitals, like the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and Northside Hospital. I would be assigned to specific departments – often, to Infants in the pediatric hospital and to Labor & Delivery in the other hospital. I spent so much time around mothers and babies and these experiences helped me recognize my passion for maternal health and neonatal health. As I started taking classes at Rice University, I became even more passionate about these topics. So, even though I was nervous about taking an engineering class for my minor as I had no prior engineering experience, I began to get more excited about the class when I found out my project would involve neonatal health.

Our mentor for the group project, Dr. Bindi Naik-Mathuria, was a pediatric surgeon practicing across the street in the Texas Medical Center at the Texas Children’s Hospital. She often went to Uganda to perform pediatric surgeries for free. And, after doing this for years, she realized that gastroschisis was a common cause of death for many newborns in these lowresource settings, yet treatment for gastroschisis was shockingly widely unavailable. Moreover, not enough research was being done on the incidence of gastroschisis in low-income countries; she ended up working with the only three pediatric surgeons in Uganda to publish a paper in 2016 tracking 40 babies with gastroschisis in Kampala – based on this data, the survival rate from gastroschisis in Uganda was conclusively 0%. So, Dr. Naik-Mathuria asked us to develop an alternative system for treating gastroschisis in, specifically, Uganda.

Gastroschisis is a congenital birth defect that affects different babies in different ways. Some newborns have only some intestines protruding from their abdomen, so the condition can be treated with one surgery; but some newborns will have more intestines protruding from their abdomen, resulting in a longer course of treatment. Gastroschisis is a condition that disparately affects premature newborns and, often, these babies are born with other complications that may interfere with the treatment of gastroschisis. But, overwhelmingly, treatment for gastroschisis itself is fairly simple; treatment involves a silastic silo bag, a patented silicone bag that hangs, housing the intestines in a moist, warm environment while gravity slowly eases the intestines back into the abdomen. The survival rate in high income countries like the U.S. is over 90% due to the reliability of the silo bag. But a single silo bag can cost upwards of $240. This cost makes treatment nearly impossible to access in low-income countries like Uganda, resulting in survival rates of 0%.

We spent this past semester researching treatment for gastroschisis to develop an alternative to the silo bag. In just three months, we were able to develop the Si-Low bag, a $28 prototype. The Si-Low bag is a nearly 90% decrease in cost for treating gastroschisis. A drastic May 29 2018 Roman Jax Nguyen Scholarship Application decrease in manufacturing costs makes our prototyped bag much more cost-effective. The SiLow bag is completely hand-sewn from a sheet of cheaper silicone material. The Si-Low bag uses a 3D-printed adjustable ring to adjust to different diameters; babies with gastroschisis are born with different sizes of holes in the abdominal wall, so multiple silo bags are needed to treat multiple babies, but with our prototyped Si-Low bag, one bag can adjust to treat many babies. The Si-Low bag also uses a 3D-printed reusable clamp to hang from an IV pole, allowing our prototyped bag to be used at almost all facilities in Uganda.

In preliminary tests, our prototyped Si-Low bag is promising. We set up tests with pork intestines and, when compared to a conventional silo bag, the prototyped bag performed remarkably similarly. We presented our device at this year’s Undergraduate Engineering Showcase and we were honored with the Excellence in Engineering: 1st Place Design Award (https://www.futurity.org/gastroschisis-babies-intestines-1741762-2/). This summer, one of my partners is taking our prototype to Malawi in Africa to be reviewed by doctors; once she gathers data, we will use this feedback to begin to improve upon our device. We are so excited to be able to continue this project and we are motivated by our capacity to impact lives. This project has been a defining experience of my undergraduate career and it will continue to shape my experience.

Rice University News & Media – Students Pursue Innard Peace for Infants

Ariel Burns – Personal Statement and Essay

Dear Avery’s Angels Gastroschisis Foundation & Roman Jax Nguyen Scholarship Committee,

I am applying for the Roman Jax Nguyen Scholarship as a survivor of gastroschisis. Most scholarships are career oriented or athletic in nature, many of which I do not feel I qualify for. However, the Roman Jax Nguyen Scholarship hits very close to home for me. Gastroschisis does not have to be what defines me, but it can be a catalyst that pushes me. This amazing scholarship opportunity would allow me to focus solely on my studies instead of worrying about repaying a large debt before I even have a chance to begin my future.

I want to pursue a degree in Radiologic and Imaging Sciences and continue my education into Diagnostic Medical Obstetrics Sonography. As a child born with this birth defect diagnosed by a prenatal ultrasound, my life was impacted by a sonogram and the obstetric sonographer who detected this abnormality. I feel destined to dedicate myself to such an evolving and necessary field of study.

As a senior in high school nearing my graduation date, life is moving very quickly. I continue to maintain above average grades, support school through extracurricular activities, volunteer in community programs, and keep a part-time job at our local donut shop. I have grown up in a blended family with a mother and step father in law enforcement and two step siblings. My step brother and I are both seniors at the same high school prepared to graduate and seek higher education in May of 2018. My older step sister is currently in the Accounting Master’s Program at Illinois State University. This is a very expensive time for my family, and I am dedicated to helping reduce any financial concerns no matter how much work it takes.

Eighteen years ago, an extraordinary organization such as Avery’s Angels Gastroschisis Foundation did not exist to provide support for parents and infants after such a diagnosis. As a survivor, I am very thankful for the Avery’s Angels Program. Through many of my mother’s stories, I know she had little information on gastroschisis, and she did not know anyone going through similar circumstances that she could lean on during her pregnancy and my days in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. I can only imagine the emotional difference an organization like Avery’s Angels Gastroschisis Foundation makes. My venture into the medical field will allow me the opportunity to spread awareness about gastroschisis and support families through their journey. The Roman Jax Nguyen Scholarship would be an exceptional helping hand throughout this process.

Learn more about the scholarship program HERE