YouTube to UBC

Ella Barrett-Chan and Ethan Chan, siblings and students at UBC, despite facing medical challenges early in life, are taking the hard lessons learned to help others with advocacy and innovation.

When Ella Barrett-Chan was 12 years old, her brother Ethan Chan's medical crisis changed her life — and put her on YouTube. 

Now a third-year medical student at UBC, Ella’s journey began after witnessing Ethan's battle with nephrotic syndrome — a serious kidney disease he was diagnosed with at just eight years old. Her desire to understand his condition and support other families facing similar challenges led her to make videos explaining his condition. With Ethan assisting, Ella soon started a YouTube channel. 

"I first started my channel when I was 12 years old, around the same time that Ethan was diagnosed with nephrotic syndrome," says Ella. "I was young; I didn't know anything about science, so I spent a lot of time trying to understand more about his condition. Since then, I've always wanted to go into medicine and help patients like him."  

For Ella, her path to medicine has been made possible through donor-funded scholarships, including the UBC Major Entrance Scholarship — with the award fueling her drive to make a difference in healthcare. 

"I owe everything to the donors," says Ella. "Without their support, I don't think I would have made the leap to pursue things like medicine and to take my career all the way that I have, so I'm really grateful." 

Today, Ethan’s health is much improved — to the extent that he has joined Ella at UBC, and is now in his second year of computer engineering at UBC. And it was during his years of treatment that he taught himself the skills that put him on this path. 

"While in hospital, I decided to teach myself how to program and build electric circuits,” he says. “After getting better, I realized I could help other patients and started building biomedical devices. Coming here to UBC and entering the computer engineering program was the best way to learn more." 

Ethan, like his older sister, has also benefitted from the support of donor-funded awards. 

"Entering my undergraduate, I received the Schulich Leader Scholarship Award, which has been incredibly amazing for supporting me here at UBC. Now my condition is more stable I can go to university and live my life. I'm so appreciative for all the donors — what they do really makes a difference!" 

Given how it all started, Ella is understandably proud of her brother. 

"It's been amazing seeing how Ethan has grown up and the amazing things that he's been able to achieve — especially with his coding and biomedical devices," says Ella. "Since I first made my videos, it’s been incredible to see how he's grown to understand his condition and help other patients through his devices." 

Continuing her medical advocacy, Ella has been busy with two new initiatives. 

"The first is the Families as Partners in Care Club — that I founded with two of my co-medical students — which focuses on helping integrate family members into patient care decisions," says Ella. "Then the second club I recently founded is the UBC Backpacks for Babies Initiative — creating kits for new parents with all the newborn essentials." 

Ethan appreciates the example Ella has set. "Seeing what Ella's done in terms of pushing forward health and science literacy has shown me the positive impact people can have through advocacy. So I appreciate her for setting that example for me." 

Other exceptional students like Ella and Ethan could use your support. Consider giving to the FORWARD for Students Fund to make their dreams come true.