Jingbo Huang

Pursuing a childhood dream in Canada

May 29, 2008

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By Roberta Staley

Jingbo Huang was a schoolgirl of 13, returning by boat as she did every weekend to her hometown of Jingtang, in eastern China, when she overheard a young woman’s conversation with another traveller. The woman’s husband was paralyzed and the couple had exhausted all their resources in a futile attempt to find a cure.

The woman’s desperate tale sparked a fire in Huang, filling her with purpose. When she got older she would become a doctor.

A precocious student, Huang graduated from high school at age 15 and was accepted into Nanjing Medical College, which taught traditional Chinese healing as well as Western medicine. She graduated from the five-year program first in her class. By age 27, Huang was heading the Nephrology Department at Yingxing People’s Hospital near her hometown.

But a desire to see the world and speak English brought her in 2001 to SFU where she began work on a master’s program in kinesiology in the Faculty of Applied Sciences. A keen interest in cardiology led her to pursue an obscure area of study: developmental changes in the neonatal heart. Study in this area is vital; a baby’s heart, in comparison to the adult heart, is a medical mystery — the mortality rate for open-heart surgery among neonates is double that for grownups.

Huang went on to do a doctorate in biology while her son Sean Lei, now 14, joined her in Canada. She continued studying the neonatal heart, using rabbits whose hearts have many similarities to human babies. Huang’s findings have been published numerous times in such august publications as the American Journal of Physiology of Cell Physiology. She also received the Canada Graduate Scholarship Doctoral Award from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Best Peer Evaluation Poster Presentation Distinction from the Heart and Stroke Foundation of B.C. and Yukon for her academic achievements.

Huang, now 42, receives her PhD in biology this June, but she is still working to fulfill the destiny that gripped her as a teenager. She is studying 12 hours a day to pass medical exams to try to clinch a residency at a B.C. hospital. If she passes her exams, Huang will celebrate by returning home to China to watch the Beijing Olympics. "I haven’t been back for three years — I miss it," she says.

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