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Sadiqa Kendi

Sadiqa Kendi, M.D., FAAP, CPST, is 2019 Bloomberg Fellow

Sadiqa Kendi

Sadiqa Kendi, M.D., FAAP, CPST, a pediatric emergency physician at Children’s National and medical director of Safe Kids DC, is among the 2019 cohort of Bloomberg Fellows, an initiative that provides world-class training to public health professionals tackling some of the most intractable challenges facing the U.S.

The Bloomberg American Health Initiative at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health on June 6, 2019, announced fellows who will receive full scholarships to earn an MPH or DrPH as they tackle five U.S. health challenges: addiction and overdose, environmental challenges, obesity and the food system, risks to adolescent health and violence. Now in its third year, the largest group of fellows to date includes representatives from organizations headquartered in 24 states and the District of Columbia.

As part of her environmental challenges fellowship, Dr. Kendi will attempt to lessen the significant morbidity and mortality suffered by children, especially children of color, due to unintentional injuries. Children’s emergency department handles more than 100,000 pediatric visits per year, 1,200 of which result in hospital admission.

“The numbers are staggering: 25% of emergency department visits by kids and more than $28 billion in health care spending are associated with injuries. These preventable injuries claim the highest number of pediatric lives, and children of color and lower income families often disproportionately bear this burden,” Dr. Kendi says.

Bloomberg Fellows Graphic

“Regrettably, I have seen the personal toll close up, and it has been sobering to hug a sobbing parent whose child clings to life after being struck by a car; to clasp the hand of a frightened child who has fallen from playground equipment and suffered a severe fracture; to see the angst written on a caregiver’s face as I lead our team in trying to save a life that easily could have been safeguarded by installing a window guard,” she adds.

Under the auspices of Safe Kids District of Columbia, Dr. Kendi is developing a one-stop Safety Center at Children’s National to provide injury prevention equipment and education to families in five focus areas: child passenger safety, home, pedestrian, sleep and sports.

Safe Kids Worldwide, the umbrella non-profit organization for Safe Kids DC, started at Children’s National and has grown to more than 400 coalitions around the world. Safe Kids DC is the local coalition that is working to address the burden of injury in local District of Columbia communities.

“I’m grateful to be named a Bloomberg Fellow because this opportunity will enable me to better understand the theories, methods of evaluation and tools for addressing the burden of injury in the District of Columbia, including how to assess and address the built environment. This training will help me to better lead my Safe Kids DC team in developing projects, outreach programs and legislative advocacy that have the potential to directly impact the communities we serve,” she adds.

young girl sitting on a bed with a cast

Creating better casts

young girl sitting on a bed with a cast

Each year, millions of children in the U.S. come to hospital emergency departments with fractures. While broken bones are commonplace, the expertise to stabilize these injuries and cast them is not, says Children’s National Health System orthopedic surgeon Shannon Kelly, M.D.

Most fractures are casted by an on-call resident without the assistance of an orthopedist, she explains. Whether that resident applies a cast successfully depends largely on how well he or she learned this skill as an intern. While most current training models have interns take calls with residents, picking up casting skills through hands-on experience from their more senior peers, they can also pick up mistakes – which get repeated once they’re caring for patients independently as residents themselves, Kelly says.

Casting mistakes aren’t trivial, she adds. They can have serious consequences for patients. For example, a cast that’s not tight enough in the right places can leave bones vulnerable to shifting, a scenario that doctors call a loss in reduction, Kelly explains. If bones aren’t in the right position to heal, doctors must reposition them either in the operating room, often exposing patients to general anesthesia, or through painful, in-office procedures.

Conversely, casts that are too tight – particularly on a fresh fracture that’s prone to swelling – can damage tissues from loss of circulation. To avoid this latter problem, doctors often create a “bivalve” cast in which the two halves are split like a clamshell, leaving room for tissues to expand. But they must use extreme care when they cut open the cast with a saw to avoid cutting patients with the rotating blade or burning them with heat generated from its friction.

“Each year, thousands of children are harmed from improper casting and must go through additional procedures to fix the damage done,” Kelly says.

That’s why she and her colleagues are developing a better way to train interns before they start their orthopedics rotation. Starting this spring, the team will be directing a series of casting workshops to train interns on the proper casting technique.

The workshops will take advantage of models that allow interns to practice without harming patients. Some of these models have simulated bones that show up on an X-ray, allowing participants to evaluate whether they achieved a good reduction once they’re finished. Other models are made of wax that melts if the heat of a cast saw becomes too intense and show nicks if the blade makes contact. Learning proper technique using this tool can help spare human patients painful burns and cuts, Kelly says.

To broaden this effort beyond Children’s National, Kelly and her colleagues received a $1,000 microgrant from the Pediatric Orthopaedic Society of North America to create videos based on material from these workshops. These videos will help trainees at medical institutions across the country learn the same pivotal casting skills.

“A broken bone is difficult enough,” Kelly says. “We’re hoping to decrease the number of times that a child has to have an unnecessary procedure on top of that from a casting mistake that could have been avoided.”

Emily Niu

Osteochondritis dissecans: Deciding the best candidates for nonoperative treatment

Emily Niu

“When patients come to see me with this condition, they’re often at their lowest point. But then I get to watch them go through this transformation as they’re getting better,” says Emily Niu, M.D. “It’s really wonderful to see someone’s personality blossom over the course of treatments.”

The adage of “practice makes perfect” is true for young competitive athletes; however it also puts them at risk for overuse injuries. One of these injuries is a condition called osteochondritis dissecans (OCD), in which repeatedly overloading joints causes increased stress to certain areas of bone. This area of bone can lose its blood supply, become unhealthy and ultimately end up fragmented. In the late stages, this area of bone can break off from the surrounding healthy bone and as a result, the overlying cartilage (which relies on the bone for a foundation) can become prone to damage. This process can be likened to the formation of potholes in a road. Typically, individuals affected can have pain, limited range of motion or even arthritis down the line.

This condition can happen at different locations throughout the body, including the knees, ankles and elbows. Baseball players and gymnasts are particularly prone to getting OCD of the capitellum, or the outside of the elbow, from throwing or tumbling.

If this injury is unstable, with bone and cartilage already fragmenting, it’s typically treated with surgery, explains Emily Niu, M.D., a Children’s National orthopaedic surgeon. Stabilizing the fragment and drilling tunnels in the affected bone surface allows new bone to grow and repair the defect. But for stable OCD, the treatment path is unclear.

Sometimes nonoperative treatments, such as rest, physical therapy or bracing the joint, can allow it to fully heal over time; however, she says, some patients treated nonoperatively may not be able to heal and will still require surgery later.

What distinguishes these two groups has thus far been unclear. Dr. Niu adds that there are few studies that have looked at what characteristics might make patients better candidates for a surgical or nonoperative route. The studies that do exist are limited to very small groups of patients.

To help doctors and their patients make more informed decisions, Dr. Niu and her colleagues performed a retrospective review of 89 patients aged 18 years old and younger treated at Boston Children’s Hospital for stable OCD of the capitellum. The vast majority of these 49 male and 40 female patients were baseball players and gymnasts. Most had just a single elbow affected; four patients (all gymnasts) experienced this problem in both elbows.

Each of these patients was initially treated nonoperatively, with activity restriction, physical therapy and progressive return to activity at the discretion of the treating physician. During this time, all of the athletes had elbow radiographs, elbow MRIs or both to image the injury and follow its healing process.

The researchers report in the November 2018 that just over half of these 93 elbows healed successfully with nonoperative treatments, taking an average of about eight months for symptoms to subside and imaging to show that the bone had healed properly.

When Dr. Niu and her colleagues looked for characteristics that might have influenced whether nonoperative treatments worked or didn’t, they didn’t find any difference in the two groups with age, bone maturity, sex, hand dominance or sport. However, the healing group had symptoms for an average of four months shorter than the non-healing group before they sought treatment. Those patients with bone lesions without clear margins visible on MRI were more likely to heal than those with clear margins, as were those without cyst-like lesions on their bones – both signs of a more advanced process. In addition, those whose bone lesions were relatively small were more likely to heal than those with larger lesions compared to the size of their bones.

Dr. Niu notes that OCD can be a devastating injury for young athletes, interrupting their participation in sports on average for a minimum of six months and significantly longer if nonoperative treatments fail and surgery becomes necessary. Being able to shave some time off that schedule with better knowledge of which type of treatment is most likely to work, she says, can help her patients get back to doing what they love significantly faster.

“When patients come to see me with this condition, they’re often at their lowest point. But then I get to watch them go through this transformation as they’re getting better,” Dr. Niu says. “It’s really wonderful to see someone’s personality blossom over the course of treatments. It’s such a relief for both of us when they’re back where they want to be.”