TWU graduate beats odds in science, research and cancer

Kevin Hay’s aptitude for scientific research has not only secured him an NSERC grant and an internship at DuPont, but it’s led to his discovery of a brand new chemical—all by age 22.

“When I was three I had a Wilms Tumour—cancer of the kidney,” explains Hay. “But back then the technology wasn’t up to speed so the doctors thought it was appendicitis. They didn’t think anything was seriously wrong with me. I ended up at home, rolling on the kitchen floor, screaming and holding my stomach. My dad took me back to the hospital and demanded the doctors not wait because something was really wrong. It wasn’t until they cut me open that the doctors found the cancer.” Hay considers himself, “lucky,” as only moments after removal, his kidney burst, dangerously close to spreading cancer cells throughout his body.

Hay, whose GPA exceeds 4.0, had more than luck when he graduated last month with great distinction in Honours Biology and Chemistry. In July he leaves for a prestigious year long internship at DuPont—one of Fortune 500’s top research companies. It’s a difficult position to land, yet he’ll be the third consecutive TWU student to intern at DuPont’s Production Facility in Deepwater, New Jersey.

Despite Hay’s aptitude for science, he admits that when he first stepped on the TWU campus, he was a History major more likely to be found reading English Literature and playing trumpet than in a research lab.

“I didn’t realize I liked science,” explains Hay, whose biology didn’t surpass science 10 until his second year of university. “I didn’t want to be a scientist, but here I am.” It was the idea of Medical School that finally got the best of him. “Initially, the hardest part for me was trying to figure out what I wanted because I wanted to do everything,” he says. “Finally, one day, after returning from a pensive walk, I announced to my parents, ‘hey, I’m going to be a doctor’ and then went and changed all my courses.”

What began as an impulsive career choice has turned into a great fit for Hay. “For one thing,” he says. “I think I have a God-given ability for academics, but more importantly, I want to help people.”

And last summer, while working on his NSERC (the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada) grant at TWU, Hay’s scientific aptitude became even more evident. After performing numerous experiments on a multi-use chemical called “Krytox,” Hay developed a brand new chemical called poly(HFPO)ethyl alcohol . The synthesis took place under the guidance of Chad Friesen, PhD, Hay’s Chemistry professor and NSERC mentor, and improved the work that a previous TWU student, Mike Beukema, had begun. The chemical has multiple industrial and environmental applications, some of which are still being determined. Now that Krytox® primary iodide has become a patented product of DuPont, Friesen, is able to discuss the application of the product and will be presenting Hay and Beukema’s research at a conference in Poland this July.

And while Hay will write the MCAT this summer he realizes his medical pursuits may not lead him to the medical practitioner field as he once thought.

“I’m realizing that it’s not really what I do in life that’s important, it’s how I live my life. It’s a scary thought but comforting at the same time. After being an organic chemistry TA as well as an IDIS (Inter-Disciplinary Studies) mentor, I’ve discovered I have a love for teaching. It’s something I want to incorporate into future years—whether it’s being a university professor or teaching in medicine and related fields.”

Last Updated: 2015-07-20
Author: Keela Keeping