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Passion for helping people leads MHS graduate into cardiology


Dr. Emily Backes, right, is a 2003 Marshalltown High School graduate who is a pediatric cardiologist in Houston, Texas. She is pictured looking over an electrocardiogram  (ECG) with colleague Dr. Vince Gonzalez.

Story written by volunteer writer Samantha Edwards

Dr. Emily Backes is a post-doctoral clinical fellow in pediatric cardiology or, more simply, a pediatric cardiologist at Texas Children’s Hospital/Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas. She is a 2003 Marshalltown High School graduate.

“I am a physician who specializes in congenital heart disease. I take care of babies, children, and even adults who were born with heart defects,” Backes said.  “Some are as simple as a small hole between two chambers of the heart, and some are as complex as being born with half of a heart. I take care of these patients before their heart surgery and then for the rest of their lives.”

She said she chose this career field due to her passion for helping people.

“I have always been passionate about helping people, I enjoyed the intellectual stimulation of math and science in school, and I love working with children,” Backes said. “Pediatric Cardiology was a perfect blend of those interests, while also giving me the opportunity to care for the sickest patients in the hospital.”

She credits Marshalltown High School’s many different classes available as a great start to her success in more than one career.

“I enrolled in every dual credit college course and AP class that was offered. I think the rigor of the courses in addition to the variety and volume of classes available were the things that helped me get where I am today,” Backes said.

The diversity of people and cultures at MHS increased her worldview, which helped in a previous job. Emily explained that before going into the medical field, she was a high school science teacher in inner-city Baltimore, Maryland.  During that time, Emily took part in the Teach for America program.

“One of the things we learn about and try to overcome is the educational achievement gap in our country,” she said.

She said the diversity at MHS is something to be proud of.

“MHS is a very diverse place, and you are exposed to many different cultures just by going to high school,” she said. “What I loved most about MHS is the pervasive belief that any student, from any background, can achieve whatever they set their mind to.”

She was involved in several aspects of the high school and mentioned the more extracurricular activities you are involved in, the more well-rounded you become.

“One of the things I am most proud of is being heavily involved in as many extracurricular activities as I could,” she said.

Emily’s favorite class was journalism. She wrote for the newspaper for all four years. Other highlights at MHS were running cross country, going to the Fiesta Bowl with the marching band, and traveling to Mexico with the Rotary Club.

“Always take advantage of organized school trips,” she said.

Emily said she always felt supported by teachers in the Marshalltown Community School District and advises future students to have confidence.

“Never let anyone tell you that you aren’t capable of doing something you are passionate about,” she said.