Dordt College News

Distinguished alumni

August 21, 2012


A world expert in commotio cordis

Mark Link (’82) is a cardiac electrophysiologist. “I’m an electrician for the heart,” Link explains. He runs a busy clinic dealing with slow heartbeats, fast heartbeats, and irregular heartbeats at the Tufts University School of Medicine. Link is director or co-director of four programs in Tufts’ Cardio-Vascular Center. He is co-director of the Cardiac Electrophysiology and Pacemaker Laboratory and its Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM) Center. He is director of both the Center for the Evaluation of Heart Disease in Athletes and the Adult Heart Station.

“I look forward to my job every day,” Link says. He enjoys working with patients and their families—showing them their options for treatment, answering their questions, addressing their hopes and fears, helping them find the best treatment possible.

“In most cases, how to treat a patient is gray, not black or white,” he says, adding that treatments need to suit a patient’s individual needs and expectations. He finds that people today are more actively involved in their care and want to work through their choices with someone who is interested in helping them as individual people with needs.

Link also loves the work he does with his hands—implanting pacemakers and defibrillators and doing ablations. He generally sees patients one day a week and conducts procedures the other four days. He has helped people ranging from age 11 to 96 for the past 19 years.

The third part of his job—which he squeezes in between patient care and on weekends—involves research, writing, speaking, and sitting on national committees. His research interests include sudden cardiac death, air pollution and arrhythmias, commotio cordis, and appropriate uses for ICDs (Implantable Cardiac Defibrillators).

Link is an internationally recognized expert in commotio cordis—sudden unexpected cardiac death in young people. He has helped doctors understand that commotio cordis is not heart disease, but a disruption of the heart rhythm due to a blow, usually from a ball, to the area directly over the heart at a critical time during the cycle of a heartbeat. Commotio cordis occurs mostly in boys and young men, usually during sports, often baseball, despite wearing a chest protector.

“It’s wonderful to feel like you’re contributing to a world bank of knowledge,” Link says. Publishing results of his work gets him involved in helping develop guidelines for physicians and helping improve patient care and treatment. “It’s energizing to work with bright, driven, wonderful people who want to help others,” he says. “Contributing makes life feel more valuable.”

Despite his busy schedule, Link is a devoted and engaged father and husband. Married to a physician and also a father of three children, he says he’s rarely missed a soccer game or recital.

Link was turned on to chemistry in high school and never wavered from it. He describes his chemistry education under Dr. Russell Maatman and Dr. Ed Geels as exceptional. He recalls with fondness and appreciation being part of the campus community and continues to appreciate the opportunity he had to take a number of philosophy courses.

“Specific courses aren’t that important for medical school,” he says. It was his total college experience—gaining maturity and learning how to study—that prepared him for and served him well in medical school.

But it was an orthopedic surgeon whose lawn he mowed during college that brought him to medicine.

“He took me under his wing for a year, taking me to the OR and his office,” says Link. His mentoring had an impact, and Link decided to go to medical school. He applied to schools across the country. Always interested in history, when he was accepted at Tufts on the East Coast, he enrolled. He’s been there ever since.

Link has enjoyed reconnecting more actively with Dordt College in the past few years. During his time on campus, he also met with Engineering Professor Dr. Kayt Frisch to explore whether they might collaborate on biomedical research. He has data that Dordt students might help analyze. Students increasingly need meaningful research experiences for graduate and medical school, so such an opportunity would benefit both Link and any student who got involved.

“It’s also good for alumni to feel useful,” Link adds.



Not only joining, but leading

In middle school and through high school Gail (Stockmeier, ’74) Jansen thought she’d like to be “a spy”—or “in intelligence,” we might say today. She even wrote to the FBI, but was told they didn’t hire women agents. So, she decided to go into law since she’d always been interested in history and politics. She may have been the first female graduate of Dordt to attend law school—at least one of very few in those early years. That decision has kept her life rich and busy.

Following graduation, Gail and Harvey (’74) moved to Arizona, and Gail enrolled at the University of Arizona Law School—back when it cost $250 per semester, she says with a smile, comparing it to the thousands it cost her son Mark (’04), who recently completed law school. Thirty-eight years later Gail and Harvey still live in Tucson, Arizona. Their lives are full with family, work, and a variety of professional, Christian, and community organizations.

Law school was a bit of a shock to Gail. “I felt that we never asked the important questions. At Dordt, I was used to talking about things like the state’s role and the purpose of government. Law school was more about learning a method of reasoning, a process of thinking without content,” she says. She wanted to talk about how attorneys should approach their work and how they promote fairness and justice.

Gail’s faith and worldview were evident already as a law student. She put up posters for local Christian Legal Society meetings, watched them be taken down, and put them back up again and again. Today there is a thriving chapter of the Christian Legal Society (CLS) in Tucson, including a student chapter that today meets in a classroom at the University of Arizona. That likely is at least partly the result of efforts by Gail and other CLS attorneys more than 15 years ago to convince administrators that Christians, too, have a right to exist and express their views on a university campus.

Gail worked in the county attorney’s office and as a prosecutor for the city of Tucson before opening her own practice more than three decades ago. As her children were born and grew, she wanted to have the flexibility to work four days a week instead of five. Today, she continues that schedule, giving one day a week to her grandchildren.

Gail says she’s always been a “joiner.” 

“I was raised seeing parents involved in and having influence in their communities,” she says.  She believes that her upbringing and her experiences at Dordt prepared her for the leadership positions she’s had since then.

At Dordt, she was part of student government and wrote a political column for the Diamond. Her list of involvements and leadership roles has grown throughout her life. She’s been a leader in the Christian Legal Society in Tucson and is part of the Collaborative Law Group of Southern Arizona, a group of family law attorneys who encourage a collaborative rather than adversarial settlement process. She’s been a board member and is current chair of the board of the Center for Public Justice in Washington, D.C., and she has been a board member and chair of the board of trustees for Dordt College.

She’s served on the bi-national board of the Christian Reformed Church of North America. She and Harvey were one of four founding families of Desert Christian School, an interdenominational school for preschool through high schools students, whose stated purpose is to disciple young Christians to make a difference in the world. She has been a church pianist or organist and choir accompanist for decades.

In her law practice, Gail deals primarily with estate planning and family law.

“I try to help people manage their estates in a stewardly way,” she says. She tries to understand who her clients are and ask questions that relate to how they think and what they believe.

The family law part of her practice often involves clients who are dealing with fear, anger, despair, disappointment, and shattered dreams. Gail tries to help her clients find a way to end relationships in a way that allows them to move forward and find or engage with a community that can provide support and relationships for a new stage of their lives.

At the Alumni Banquet honoring this year’s Distinguished Alumni, Gail, the parent of three sons and three-daughter-in-laws who are Dordt graduates and of one current student, told the audience that she was grateful that many of the ideas that were emphasized when she was a student are still taught today.

“Dordt continues to be a place where you can be serious about your faith in a rigorous academic setting,” she says.



Growing up with Dordt College

Katie Haan’s life has been connected to Dordt College since she was a child. As the daughter of Dordt’s first president, Rev. B.J. Haan, memories of college-related conversations go back as far as she can remember, well before she and her family moved to the president’s house when she was 12.

“We ate, slept, breathed, and talked Dordt College,” she says. “We kids all felt the excitement and anxieties as plans were made to start a college in Northwest Iowa. I could spend hours reminiscing about the early days of Dordt and the profound influence it had on me and my family.”

There was no question about whether Katie would attend Dordt College. She enrolled in 1960 while Dordt was still a junior college. She graduated, but knew that the college would be expanding to a four-year institution after another year and that she wanted to get a four-year degree. She taught at Edgerton Christian School in Minnesota for one year and then returned to Dordt to be part of the first four-year graduating class.

Retired since 2009, Katie taught for her entire professional life.

“After I graduated from Dordt I was eager to teach, but I also wanted an adventure,” she says. Her first job after graduation was at Edmonton Christian School in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. During her two years there she learned how to survive teaching 38 students in one class, developed some wonderful friendships, matured in her thinking, and did some informal promoting of Dordt.

“Several of the students I taught in those two years later attended Dordt,” she says.

She returned to Sioux Center in 1967 to teach at Sioux Center Christian School. Living on campus with her parents, she became very involved in the life of the college. She often helped serve her mother’s famous dinners and, just as often, eavesdropped on or participated in interesting conversations with people from around the world.

After four years she was ready for another change and took a teaching position at Pittsburgh Christian School.

“My three years there helped to broaden my perspective on the Reformed community. I learned to appreciate other backgrounds and points of view, and the education I received at Dordt and in my home help me to articulate what I believed,” she says.

Three years later Katie again returned to Sioux Center Christian where, with the exception of one year teaching missionary children in Liberia West Africa, she spent the rest of her career. But even these years were punctuated by travels that brought both adventure and enrichment. One summer she received a scholarship to study and travel in India and several years later she received a Teacher Memorial Scholarship to visit Japan to learn about its educational system. 

“Both of these experiences, along with the year I spent in Africa, enriched my life in such a way that I could help my students learn to appreciate the diversity of God’s creation and to become more understanding of the different ways others live and think,” she says.

As a teacher, Katie enjoyed the close connections and professional development opportunities offered by Dordt College and its education department throughout the years, including the annual B.J. Haan Education Conference. She was challenged to think about how she and her students could be reconciling agents of Christ in this world. She also learned different teaching methods and different approaches to learning.

Katie has given back to Dordt College, too. Over the years she has hosted numerous education students in her class room, and she has supervised 38 student teachers.

“I am so happy that I could help Dordt in this way and that I had a small part in helping these young people develop an effective, Christian view of education,” she says. Several of these students eventually became her colleagues, and some are now teaching at Dordt College.

Even though Katie is retired, she still stays involved in education. She continues to supervise a few student teachers and she also serves as a substitute teacher in local Christian schools.

“Dordt College means a lot to me, and I am grateful for all that it has done in the past. I pray that it will continue to be a mighty influence for God’s kingdom for many years to come,” she says.


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