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Microbiology alumnus does life-saving work for babies with heart defects

| Denise Olson (story); Jesse Yang (video)

Blugold microbiology graduate Casey Huxtable '15 is pursuing his passion as part of a team of specialists whose job it is to save the lives of babies born with congenital heart defects. At a key moment in open-heart surgeries around the country, Huxtable prepares a syringe of life-saving stem cells that will help a baby's heart to regain strength and function.

Oh, and one more thing ... Huxtable is not a doctor. He is not a nurse either.

Casey Huxtable is a quality assurance technician at ReGen Theranostics in Rochester, Minnesota, a biotechnology company that produces patient-specific stem cells for groundbreaking medical research and procedures.

A foundation at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, the Wanek Family Foundation, is currently funding clinical trials of the stem cell procedure Huxtable works on. When a baby is diagnosed in utero with a condition called hypoplastic left heart syndrome, cord blood is saved at birth and ReGen lab grows stem cells from that sample. When the baby is strong enough for surgery several months later, technicians like Huxtable pack and freeze the cells and fly them to the surgery site, where they assist in the OR by properly preparing the syringe for the surgeons.

Huxtable's path to this career was not as streamlined as he once thought it would be. Like many other students with strengths in math and science and a desire to help others, he intended to attend medical school after completing his bachelor's degree. After three years, however, he decided med school was not for him, and completed his microbiology degree with some uncertainty about where that would lead him. 

Watch the video above and hear how changing his mind about medical school opened Huxtable's eyes to a whole world of medicine-related industries and career paths he never knew existed. He has some advice for current and future Blugolds who either aren't sure about a major or, like him, decide to change course midway through.

"It's okay — eventually you will find where you need to be. The world is so much bigger than what we perceive it to be as college students," he says. "There are so many more opportunities to get you where you should be, even if it's not the path you expected."