by Andrew David
Manard Stewart started as a Research Assistant for the ADRC in 2007 and is now a Research Study Coordinator.
Please tell us about your work at the ADRC.
As a Research Study Coordinator, there are basically two components to my work. First, there’s the administrative side, where I schedule appointments, track down medical records, review medical records, clean data to prepare it for the data core, send letters, and make sure the autopsy program is running smoothly. The other side of the job is being in the clinic with study participants. I’m usually the first person they meet when they get to their appointments. I also consent participants into the research study, so I answer questions and help subjects sign the consent forms. Then, as clinicians, doctors, and neuropsychometrists are needed, I call them into the appointment. I’m sort of like the MC or the ringmaster.
Could you walk us through what someone’s first appointment might look like?
By the time someone arrives for their first appointment, they’ve already gone through a pretty extensive review where we’ve requested medical records, conducted a phone interview, and sent them the consent forms, so they come to the appointment with a pretty clear understanding of what’s going to happen.
Once someone arrives, we answer any questions they might have and outline what’s going to happen at the appointment. Everything in research is voluntary, so we want to make it very clear in the consenting process what is going to be expected of them so they can confirm that it’s something they want to do.
Then we ask participants about their demographic information, family history, medical changes, and medications. For a screening visit, the participant undergoes memory testing and the study informant, often a family member or someone else who knows the study participant really well, is taken into another room where they describe how they think things are going. A lot of people with memory problems don’t realize the extent of their memory problems, so we ask the informant for information to further establish where the person is clinically. Then the participant is seen by the doctor who performs a neurological evaluation. At the end of the appointment, vital signs are taken and a blood draw is performed to obtain DNA. If they’re going to have a lumbar puncture, there is an EKG.
The first appointment usually takes three to four hours—we specialize in unusual forms of dementia, so community doctors often refer subjects to this clinic because they can’t quite pinpoint what’s going on, and we’re careful about getting a thorough evaluation. But the follow-up appointments go faster. And if someone is a control, meaning they don’t have any memory or thinking problems, those appointments go faster as well.
What’s your favorite part of the job?
The study participants. They’re amazing. They are incredible people. I always look forward to meeting them or talking to them on the phone because they are always extraordinary.
In fact, when I interviewed for the job, and they told me that they get volunteers to do spinal taps, I thought they were kidding. I thought there was no way that you could convince someone to do that for a non-medical reason.
But since working here, I’ve realized that a research spinal tap is a very different animal than a medically indicated spinal tap. With a research spinal tap, the doctors take different precautions and use different equipment. Also, if there’s any reason they think a lumbar puncture might cause problems, they won’t do it. A lot of the participants with Alzheimer’s disease fall asleep during the spinal tap. It’s really a very benign experience. Some say that they would much rather have a lumbar puncture than do the memory testing!
What drew you to this position?
I was a professional ballet dancer for sixteen years. I started studying dance when I was a little kid; it was a compromise—I grew up in a family of jocks, and I had no interest in sports, so I started tap dancing and then moved to ballet. Much to my parents’ consternation, when I was eighteen, I decided to pursue dancing as a career. I danced with the Cleveland Ballet, the National Ballet of Canada, Ballet Chicago, and then I came here and danced six seasons with Pacific Northwest Ballet.
Dancer career spans are usually about ten years, and in my fifteenth year, my orthopedist told me, “Well, you could dance another season or you could climb stairs when you’re sixty.” I was running into some very significant injuries—back problems, knee problems, ankle problems—so it was becoming very difficult to perform. And so while I was still at the top of my form, I decided to retire and go back to school. My most interesting class was cell biology, so I got a degree in molecular biology. I knew that I wanted to work in the sciences, but I didn’t want to work with mice, rats, E. coli, or yeast; I wanted to work with people.
During my last two years of undergraduate education, I worked as a nursing assistant. I went to a nursing home where they had a lock-down dementia ward, and on that very first afternoon, I had one of those revelatory moments where I thought, “This is it! This is a population who I really enjoy working with.”
Now that you’ve been here for a while, what are your plans for the future?
I am applying to nursing schools to become a registered nurse. Ideally, I’d like to get into a part-time program so that I can continue working here. It’s hard to predict the future, but I really enjoy working in research, and I really enjoy working for this organization, so after I become a nurse, the idea would be that I could become a research nurse here.
What do you do for fun?
I sing with a group called the Tudor Choir. We specialize in polyphony and music from the English Renaissance—it’s a really fascinating period of music, and it’s kind of been forgotten. We are the artists in residence at Blessed Sacrament and at St. Thomas’s out in Medina.
My choir is sometimes contracted to sing scores for movies and video games. I’ve sung for Halo, World of Warcraft, and some of the Star Wars video games, which is a real pain because you have to learn to sing in a made-up language. I’ve also done the Shrek Christmas Special. And I hear our choir all of the time in commercials, like right now there’s the film Book of Eli, and we’re in the soundtrack for the commercial. So if you hear anything where there’s an enormous choir, it’s very likely that it was recorded in Seattle with my choir.