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Passion, Support, and Grace

Hope Breathes

Honors neuroscience student Katrina Lantz was sectioning chicken embryos in her research lab while we interviewed her for this story. After reading her award-winning essay “The Part I Can See” in the Honors journal Scribendi, anything but multitasking would have seemed out of character. As a full-time student and mother of six, Katrina is a testament to how sheer grit and a couple of miracles can change lives.

As she left Mesa, Arizona in August 2001 to start her undergraduate career at BYU, Katrina had no clue the tragedy that would occur just days into her freshman year. She was an 18-year-old Pre-Communications major and an overachieving Honors student ready to take on the world. On September 11th, 2001, less than two weeks into the semester, two passenger planes flew into the World Trade Center, and Katrina felt that a rug had been pulled out from under her feet. Suddenly, the innate security she had grown to expect was no longer available, and she struggled to maintain her usual composure. After fighting poor mental health for five semesters, she withdrew from BYU and moved back home.

Returning home ended up being a serendipitous opportunity--through a series of moves, Katrina met her husband in Michigan, moved to Southern Utah, and had five sons. Now happily settled, Katrina started to notice a difference in her dreams. Instead of having nightmares about missing classes and failing tests, she had dreams about being on time to classes and watching a flood wash away her old difficulties. After 15 years, she decided to return to BYU. It seemed like terrible timing--her youngest was barely two years old--but Katrina was determined, and with the support of her family, she has flourished. She chose to return to the Honors Program due to its interdisciplinary focus. Her 1.7 GPA rose astoundingly to a 3.03 in a couple semesters. Neuroscience became her new major “because it just felt right.” She wouldn't fully understand why it was right until she became pregnant with her first daughter in 2020.

Abigail, Katrina’s daughter, was diagnosed with anencephaly at 22 weeks in the womb. Babies with the condition are often stillborn, and the few that are born alive only survive a few hours. A few days after receiving the diagnosis, Katrina went to her neurobiology professor Dr. Matheson. After Katrina expressed her despair that her daughter would never hear or see her, Dr. Matheson shared her feelings that Abigail’s spirit would understand that her mother was near. Abigail was born February 25th, 2020 via C-section, three weeks before her initial due date. This year, Katrina decided to share Abigail’s story through a personal essay published in Scribendi, a journal for Honors student publications for the Western Regional Honors Council, of which the BYU Honors Program is a part. Following are some excerpts from “The Part I Can See,”Katrina’s essay about her birth experience. The full essay can be found here on page 73 of the latest issue of Scribendi.

“After five births showcasing my raw power as a woman to bring life into the world, this birth would be different.
Different because I would lie there passively while my baby was removed.
Different because I would not be bringing life, but ending one. Scheduling the C-section felt like planning a murder.
How could we choose this day?
They wanted to take her four weeks early.
I called them and made them change it forward a week. Three weeks early was all they would get.
Give her lungs a little longer to develop
Hope had not died.”

“She did have a nose. In the middle of her nostrils was a facial cleft, but she breathed through it like a champ. … Her face was so sweet, absolutely perfect.”

“Behind him, my heart monitor flat-lined.
Calmly, too calmly for Bill to register, a nurse picked up a phone and said, ‘We have a code blue.’
Dying was easy. But before Bill was wheeled out of the room to name and bless our breathing and very much alive baby girl, the anesthesiologist had restarted my heart with a shot of epinephrine, and I took several gasps of air I would not remember taking.”

“Abigail was undressed by the nurses and laid on my chest by my husband, skin to skin. So she could be comfortable as slowly, slowly her heart came to a stop against mine. And then, the inevitability of it was not horrifying, but peace-giving. Because this had been foreseen, and it was required of me, and so I could do it. That foreknowing was a gift too.”

After the experience with her daughter, Katrina wanted answers. To better understand the biological basis of her daughter’s condition, she started working in Professor Michael Stark’s research lab. They are investigating reversing neural tube defects like anencephaly with folic acid. This is where Katrina flourishes as an expert chicken embryo sectioner. In her spare time, she keeps up to date on recent research on neurodiversity and cognitive disabilities such as Alzheimer’s disease and autism.

Katrina’s essay about Abigail won the Staff Choice Award in Scribendi as well as the hearts of its readers. Moreover, this was not her first experience with writing. As a child, Katrina idolized J. K. Rowling and wrote little poems. This love of writing led Katrina to self-publish three books: The Healing Bucket (2018) and two parts of a middle-school book series, Drats, Foiled Again! (2018) and Bombs Away! (2019).

When we asked Katrina what her top advice for non-traditional students would be, she summed it up in three points. Her first tip is to find what you are passionate about and do it. Katrina sacrificed a lot to be able to return to school, and she wanted to be sure that she was doing it for something she loved. The next tip is to find a support group. Both “The Part I Can See” and her interview made it evident that Katrina’s husband Bill has been a significant support for her. He made it possible for her to return to school, and when Abigail was being born, he was at Katrina’s side through it all. Her final piece of advice is to give yourself grace--understand that things will go wrong and recognize that it is okay. She also advocates for being aware of the status of your mental health, especially during the pandemic and its ensuing chaos.

Katrina has risen to meet and overcome many challenges. The concluding lines of her essay are incredibly applicable for both traditional and non-traditional students: “Hope breathes. There is more beyond what you and I have experienced. And there is more beyond the part I can see.”

Katrina Lantz is a non-traditional Honors student majoring in Neuroscience and minoring in Nonprofit Management. She is working toward becoming a Ballard Scholar, she is a published author, and she is a mother of six. You can access her award-winning essay “The Part I Can See” here on page 73.