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JUNE 10, 2024
Good morning, Fearless readers:

I hope your summer is off to a good start.

Last fall, Fearless introduced you to physical therapist Heidi Ernst of Marshalltown. On June 7, 2023, a shark attacked her as she was climbing the boat ladder after completing a dive in the Bahamas. She had to have her left leg amputated below the knee at a trauma center in Miami.

Business Record special projects editor Emily Barske Wood has continued to follow Ernst’s recovery. We’re sharing an update in today’s issue with her permission as she recently reflected on the one-year anniversary of the attack.  

In this week’s Fearless e-newsletter, you will also find:

  • A story about two researchers at Des Moines University who published a study about a new approach to fighting cervical cancer.
  • Information about the June 20 online Fearless Focus event about Iowa’s child care crisis.
  • In the headlines: A federal court ruled recently that Caitlin Hainley and Emily Zambrano-Andrews, a pair of Central Iowa midwives fighting for the right to build a stand-alone birthing center, can continue their lawsuit against the state.
  • In case you missed it: 2023 World Food Prize laureate Heidi Kuhn was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
  • Lots more!

– Nicole Grundmeier, Business Record staff writer

Iowa scuba diver lost part of her leg to a shark. Now she’s back in the water
Heidi Ernst. Illustration by Kate Meyer.
In the fall, Fearless readers heard the story of Heidi Ernst, a 74-year-old who had to have her left leg amputated below the knee following a shark attack right after her 524th scuba dive in the Bahamas. Ernst was featured in our Fearless edition of the Business Record and spoke at our annual celebration.

After I interviewed her for the first time in August I asked if she’d be willing to let me follow her on her recovery journey as she got her prosthetic leg, a first step to getting back to all the things she loves, including scuba diving, running her acreage on her own and going back to work as a physical therapist. She graciously allowed me to attend her medical appointments, see her in her home and ask a zillion follow-up questions.

In April, my story following her journey was published in the Guardian. We’re sharing it today with Ernst’s permission to mark the one-year anniversary of the shark attack on June 7 last year. And what was Heidi doing to honor the anniversary this year? Diving, of course.

It was a true honor to share her story with the world.

– Emily Barske Wood, special projects editor


Shark tattoos adorn each of Heidi Ernst’s calves. You can see them now as she sits at an Iowa clinic, gazing out the window. Around her neck are two silver necklaces: one clasps two dolphins, the other a shark. Her blue eyes twinkle like the ocean. The lines on her face reflect not her 74 years, but the fears she has faced.

"I’m so excited I can hardly talk," she says to her neighbor, who drove her to this critical medical appointment in mid-September.

Ernst is a physical therapist, but today she is the patient. For the first time in 103 days, she will stand on two legs. One has been designed just for her.

On an early June day in 2023, the Caribbean Sea sparkled around Grand Bahama Island, about 100 miles east of the Florida coast. Sponges, squids and sharks meander the clear waters. Ernst perched at the back of the boat, ready for the team’s second dive of the day, this one in "Shark Junction."

The Grand Bahama Scuba dive team decided to wait an extra hour before the second dive because a tour operator nearby had lured sharks to the surface to let visitors hand-feed them.

This luring practice is controversial, and Ernst didn’t approve of it. Human feedings train the sharks to come to the surface, disrupting their normal hunt. Regulations prohibit the practice off the coast of Florida, but no such restrictions have been placed on operations in Bahamian or other Caribbean waters.

Reef sharks grow up to 10 feet long and are among the largest predators here. Ernst felt excited to catch sight of them, as she had countless times. With hundreds of dives under her belt, it was hard to imagine that she once feared this sport.

Even though she lived 1,000-plus miles from the ocean at her acreage in Marshalltown, Iowa, something about scuba diving had intrigued Ernst – and terrified her. One day in 2011 she thought: you can’t go through life avoiding the things that you fear. So she signed up for a class in the shallow recreation pool at the YMCA, and soon after, a colleague at a training in Florida pointed her in the direction of Grand Bahama Scuba.

Study by DMU researchers shows potential cervical cancer therapy breakthrough using COVID-19 vaccine-related spike protein
Dr. Yujiang Fang — an academic pathologist and associate professor in the microbiology and immunology department at Des Moines University — alongside Dr. Conner Willson, a May 2024 graduate of DMU’s osteopathic medicine program. Photo courtesy of Des Moines University.
In a study led by researchers at Des Moines University Medicine and Health Sciences, the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, integral to COVID-19 vaccines, has shown promise as a novel approach to treating cervical cancer.

This revelation builds upon earlier research at DMU that demonstrated the spike protein’s ability to diminish cancer cell survival rates in prostate cancer. The latest findings demonstrate similar inhibitory effects on cervical cancer cell growth.

The research was spearheaded by Dr. Yujiang Fang – an academic pathologist and associate professor in the microbiology and immunology department at DMU – alongside Dr. Conner Willson, a May 2024 graduate of DMU’s osteopathic medicine program. Researchers at the University of Missouri School of Medicine also collaborated on the study.

Their findings were published in Anticancer Research, a peer-reviewed scientific journal focused on cancer treatment and prevention research. The research team discovered that the spike protein of the SARS-CoV-2 virus can arrest the growth of cervical cancer cells and initiate cellular apoptosis (cell death).

This happens because the spike protein increases the levels of specific molecules in the cells that prevent them from growing and promote their death. In simpler terms, the spike protein may act like a "stop" signal for the cancer cells, preventing them from growing and spreading.

"These findings are important because they suggest that the spike protein might have a role in fighting cancer," Fang said in a prepared statement. "More research is needed to understand how it works fully and if it can be used as a treatment."
More information can be found here.
Fearless Focus: Child care – a look at solutions to Iowa’s child care challenges
Issues with availability and affordability plague Iowa’s child care system. In recent years, the issue has been seen by many as a business issue: If workers cannot afford or find available child care, they can’t work. Adding more fuel to the fire, school districts that can’t find enough teachers are considering or have moved to four-day weeks, leaving working parents concerned about finding available child care on days when school is not in session. In this discussion, we’ll talk to those working to change the trajectory of child care in Iowa through unique policy, business and community solutions. Come learn what’s being done and other ideas that could be employed in the future.

Meet our panelists here.

June 20, 2024 | Noon to 1 p.m.
Register here.
Getty Photos
In the headlines
Midwives’ lawsuit challenging Iowa certificate-of-need law can continue, judge says: A pair of Central Iowa midwives fighting for the right to build a stand-alone birthing center can continue their lawsuit against the state, a federal judge ruled May 29. Caitlin Hainley and Emily Zambrano-Andrews, who together make up the Des Moines Midwife Collective, are challenging a state law requiring any new medical facility to obtain a "certificate of need" from regulators, according to this story from the Des Moines Register.

Dentons Davis Brown celebrates gender parity milestone: Dentons Davis Brown has announced that following its 2024 shareholder elections, 51% of its shareholders are now women, surpassing the national average of 28% female law firm partners. The firm celebrated this milestone on May 23, coinciding with the birthday of Arabella Mansfield, the first woman admitted to the practice of law in the U.S. Senior attorney Deb Tharnish and vice president Lori Chesser shared stories of the firm's commitment to hiring the best talent and fostering an inclusive environment.

Iowa nonprofit empowers young girls to capture their voice through film photography: The Butterfly Effect is one of 30 after-school programs the Chrysalis Foundation of West Des Moines supports. The program teaches girls the art of photography, even how to develop film, according to this story from KCCI. "Get them away from Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, you know, instant gratification, into a more thoughtful, artistic way to view the world," said photographer Dan Troxell, who teaches the girls using his own personal collection of about 200 cameras.

Co-workers remember the ‘bright light’ behind the witty Iowa DOT highway signs: "Don’t be a stinker use your blinker." "Speeding won’t get you thru winter any faster." "Not buckled? Seriously??" These signs seen by Iowa motorists were favorites of their author, Tracey Bramble, an Iowa Department of Transportation employee who died May 18. The messages were just one of Bramble’s many responsibilities in her nearly 25-year career with the Iowa DOT, according to this story from the Des Moines Register.

Worth checking out
Appeals court blocks Fearless Fund from awarding grants to Black women (Washington Post). Pandemic aid for schools is ending soon. Many after-school programs may go with it. (NPR). Barred from combat, women working as codebreakers, cartographers and coxswains helped D-Day succeed (Associated Press). With payments to college athletes, another fight looms for women (New York Times). Your intern is wearing a corporate crop top. Should you say something — or join her? (Wall Street Journal). Who is Claudia Sheinbaum, Mexico’s next president? (Washington Post).
2023 World Food Prize laureate Heidi Kuhn nominated for Nobel Peace Prize
Heidi Kuhn, who received the 2023 World Food Prize for her work to remove landmines from war-ravaged areas and restore the land for agriculture, has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Kuhn is the founder of Roots of Peace, an organization she started in 1997. She has traveled the world, removing mines in Afghanistan, Angola, Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cambodia, Croatia, Iraq, Israel, Palestinian territories and Vietnam.

Recently, Kuhn visited the minefields of Karabakh, a region in Azerbaijan known for its high-quality grapes that is now marred with an estimated 1.5 million landmines.

"Each landmine removed, each fruit tree planted, is a step towards feeding future generations and combating climate change," Kuhn said in a news release. "With an estimated 110 million landmines in over 60 countries and 30% of Ukraine contaminated, our work is far from over."

The work of Roots of Peace has also led to the creation of jobs for women in countries where they have been oppressed. Kuhn was also awarded the Mother Teresa Memorial Award for Social Justice in November 2023.

Her nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize was announced by Umud Mirzayev, president of the International Eurasia Press Fund, based in Baku, Azerbaijan. During the International Mine Action Conference in Baku, Kuhn and Mirzayev launched a pilot project to clear the land mines and restore the land to sustainable vineyards.

This year’s Nobel Prize announcements will be made Oct. 7-14.

To read an interview Kuhn did with the Business Record in the weeks leading up to last year’s World Food Prize ceremony, click here.

Be fearless with us
At its core, Fearless exists to help empower Iowa women to succeed in work and life. We believe that everyone has a story to share and that we cannot progress as a society unless we know about one another. We share stories through featuring women in our reporting, featuring guest contributions and speakers at our events.

We are always looking for new stories to share and people to feature. Get in touch with us!

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