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Blind Date: the beauty of a donation and the gratefulness of a patient    Apr 09, 2019

Blind Date: the beauty of a donation and the gratefulness of a patient
Apr 09, 2019

One table, two chairs. That’s all it takes to have a good conversation. We brought together two people from different fields to talk about their work, insights, and passions. When a conversation ends with the sentence “I am really glad that we have met each other”, you know it has been a good one.

INTRODUCE YOURSELF

Piet: “I am Piet Vandebroek. Recently, I started working for the University Fund of UHasselt.”

Jolien: “My name is Jolien Robijns. I just received my Ph.D. degree in Biomedical Sciences at UHasselt and now I am a post-doctoral researcher. My research, under the guidance of prof. dr. Jeroen Mebis, deals with the treatment of painful burn wounds which occur as a side-effect of the radiation therapy of cancer patients.

Piet: “That’s really incredible. I already see a lot of things we might have in common, especially with regards to the University Fund. But what we do might already be one of the next topics of conversation.”

TELL US A BIT MORE ABOUT YOUR JOB

Jolien: “My research is all about treating patients who suffer from acute radiation dermatitis. This is an inflammatory skin reaction that occurs when a person is exposed to radiation. To counter this response we use low-level light therapy. Using an infrared laser, we stimulate stem cells that reside inside the skin to grow and recuperate faster. In addition to this, the therapy also has an anti-inflammatory effect. During my Ph.D., our research group was the first to demonstrate positive effects for this approach, in both breast and head-neck cancer patients. I was very fortunate and grateful to receive a scholarship from “Kom op Tegen Kanker (rise against cancer)” to continue this project.

Piet: “I wouldn’t be doing my job well if I wouldn’t ask you the following question. Do you still need money?

Jolien: “Additional funds are always welcome as we are starting up a new Laser Center within our Limburg Oncology Center. Currently, we have two lasers, one in Jessa Hospital and one in Hospital East-Limburg where we will be starting a new research project in the near future. But one laser is actually not enough to conduct research and treat patients. So we would like to acquire some additional devices. The cost price of such a laser is around 18 000 euro.

 Piet: “That seems manageable. Perhaps we can help you out given the clear societal impact of your research. Maybe I should explain how we operate. Together with my colleague Arne Biesmans, I am responsible for collecting funds for 3 target groups: students, research and infrastructure. It’s mainly scouting for new ways to raise money. Examples are sponsoring by entrepreneurs or donations. Recently we organized a lottery where people could win an overnight stay within one of the domes of the ECOTRON research center. We raised quite the sum with this experiment.

Jolien: “I did not know this existed within our university. That’s very interesting.

WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT YOUR WORK

Jolien: “What a great question. For me, this is the social interaction I have with the patients. They are always so grateful when the therapy works.

Piet: “And what happens if this is not the case? Are there also patients you had to let go?

Jolien: “Most of the patients who participate in my research project already went through quite a trajectory (surgery and chemotherapy) after their diagnosis. The radiotherapy is an after-treatment. This means that they are already in the last phases of their treatment regime and are generally quite positive. Every six weeks, the patients return for a check-up and it’s always fun to run into them in the hospital hallways.

Piet: “That does sound really nice. We also try to deliver good news. Whenever we can collect money, others are happy. It can be a student who otherwise wouldn’t be able to attend university or a researcher who can finally start a project. I come from a more commercial background, so I do need the feeling of a small success from time to time. However, we have only started a year ago and this type of work cannot be rushed. But I do enjoy it a lot. One thing I vividly remember happened during my first week working here. I was invited by the pilgrimage committee of Rapertingen who had gathered over 21 000 euro. They gave us 7000 euro of this sum for our autism research project. It was humbling to receive such a gift and heartwarming to see how proud they were to give it to a good cause. Our first big success was obtaining funding for ECOTRON’s energy bill when we were giving the company NUHMA a tour around the facility. When something like that happens you, of course, return home at the end of the day with a big smile on your face.

WHAT DID YOU WANT TO BECOME WHEN YOU WERE YOUNG

Jolien: “I have always been fascinated and intrigued by biology and science in general. I loved browsing through an encyclopedia or visiting science museums. Though, like most people perhaps, I did not really know what I wanted to specialize in.

Piet: “One could say that you followed your gut. For me, it’s a bit less pronounced as I did a few different jobs over the years. Though I always had the dream to start up my own business. I was finally able to realize it 5 years ago and am combining it now with my job at the university. So on the side, I am also designing websites and helping out small businesses with their communication, despite not having an ICT background. But I also use this knowledge for my job at the UHasselt. For example, I designed a simulator that allows you to calculate how much inheritance tax you save when putting a good cause into your will. You only have to pay 8.5 % instead of 45-55 % and UHasselt pays this 8.5 % for you. Other universities have already contacted us to ask if they can use this simulator too (laughs).

WOULD YOU SWITCH JOBS WITH EACH OTHER FOR A DAY

Piet: “I am afraid that this will not benefit your patients (laughs). But in all seriousness, I think it would feel amazing to help out and cure patients. In addition to this, you are doing state-of-the-art research which must give a huge rush. So yeah, I would love to switch for a moment, even if I am not qualified.

Jolien: “Although I am certain that your job is very interesting and has a lot of variety, I am quite sure that it wouldn’t be something for me. I am not really a talker and don’t feel comfortable conversing with groups of people I don’t know. But the dynamic aspect of the job really speaks to me as I am someone who doesn’t like spending too much time behind a desk. That being said I really enjoyed this conversation.

Piet: “Indeed. I am really glad that we got to meet one another.

 

Check out our previous blind date post here.