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Alexandra M. Sim

From the mouths of babes: Lessons in humility

Alexandra M. Sims

A poem written by Alexandra M. Sims, M.D., FAAP, was published Jan. 7, 2020, in JAMA, as part of its series of works by artists and physicians that explore the meaning of healing and illness.

Each encounter is like a single shard in a mosaic that, taken as a whole, presents a picture of amazing optimism despite myriad challenges.

Alexandra M. Sims, M.D., FAAP, a General Academics Pediatric Fellow at Children’s National Hospital, captured the anonymized vignettes in her journal, using writing as a way to help process both the unbounded joy and sobering trauma experienced by her young patients.

Dr. Sims distilled the snippets into a 27-line poem published Jan. 7, 2020, in JAMA, as part of “Poetry and Medicine,” poems penned by artists and physicians to explore the meaning of healing and illness.

One of the vignettes collapses eye-opening comments she heard during a number of clinical encounters, including a childhood immunization session for a 4-year-old: Doesn’t flinch with the vaccines, but tells me not to call them ‘shots’ / His classmate was shot last year / And she died

“When I’m talking about a ‘shot,’ the first thing that comes to my mind – because of what I do for a living and how my life has unfolded – is a vaccination,” Dr. Sims explains. “That caught me off guard. Even though I have been doing this job for a while, I can always learn from patients and families. It really made me shift the language I use, avoiding words that I might think are innocuous that can be translated in ways that can be scary for a child.”

And the poem’s title, “Keep That Same Energy,” was inspired by a young man who, like many patients, calls her Dr. Seuss, and ended his visit by doing 10 pushups: Keep that same energy, sweet Black boy, I silently pray / That agency, that confidence / When the world tries to tell you who you are

During each clinical encounter, Dr. Sims says she tries to instill a sense of pride and competence in the hopes it helps her patients continue to persevere in the face of adversity.

“The patients we see here experience trauma in a lot of big and small ways,” she says. “I’m blown away by their positivity and resilience and ability to deal with a lot of things life is throwing at them. My worry is when – and if – the resiliency will wear down and what things we should be doing as providers to build up that self-efficacy and resiliency so it will last a lifetime.”

LISTEN: Dr. Sims reads “Keep That Same Energy”

An-Massaro

Looking for ‘help’ signals in the blood of newborns with HIE

An Massaro

“This data support our hypothesis that a panel of biomarkers – not a one-time test for a single biomarker – is needed to adequately determine the risk and timing of brain injury for babies with HIE,” says An N. Massaro, M.D.

Measuring a number of biomarkers over time that are produced as the body responds to inflammation and injury may help to pinpoint newborns who are more vulnerable to suffering lasting brain injury due to disrupted oxygen delivery and blood flow, according to research presented during the Pediatric Academic Societies 2019 Annual Meeting.

Hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) happens when blood and oxygen flow are disrupted around the time of birth and is a serious birth complication for full-term infants. To lessen the chance of these newborns suffering permanent brain injury, affected infants undergo therapeutic cooling, which temporarily lowers their body temperatures.

“Several candidate blood biomarkers have been investigated in HIE but we still don’t have one in clinical use.  We need to understand how these markers change over time before we can use them to direct care in patients,” says An N. Massaro, M.D., co-director of the Neonatal Neurocritical Care Program at Children’s National and the study’s senior author. “The newborns’ bodies sent out different ‘help’ signals that we detected in their bloodstream, and the markers had strikingly different time courses. A panel of plasma biomarkers has the potential to help us identify infants most in need of additional interventions, and to help us understand the most optimal timing for those interventions.”

Past research has keyed in on inflammatory cytokines and Tau protein as potential biomarkers of brain injury for infants with HIE who are undergoing therapeutic cooling. The research team led by Children’s faculty wanted to gauge which time periods to measure such biomarkers circulating in newborns’ bloodstreams. They enrolled 85 infants with moderate or severe HIE and tapped unused blood specimens that had been collected as cooling began, as well as 12, 24, 72 and 96 hours later. The infants’ mean gestational age was 38.7 weeks, their mean birth weight was about 7 pounds (3.2 kilograms), and 19% had severe brain disease (encephalopathy).

Cytokines – chemicals like Interleukin (IL) 6, 8 and 10 that regulate how the body responds to infection, inflammation and trauma – peaked in the first 24 hours of cooling for most of the newborns. However, the highest measure of Tau protein for the majority of newborns was during or after the baby’s temperature was restored to normal.

“After adjusting for clinical severity of encephalopathy and five-minute Apgar scores, IL-6, IL-8 and IL-10 predicted adverse outcomes, like severe brain injury or death, as therapeutic hypothermia began. By contrast, Tau protein measurements predicted adverse outcomes during and after the infants were rewarmed,” Dr. Massaro says.

IL-6 and IL-8 proteins are pro-inflammatory cytokines while IL-10 is considered anti-inflammatory.  These chemicals are released as a part of the immune response to brain injury. Tau proteins are abundant in nerve cells and stabilize microtubules.

“This data support our hypothesis that a panel of biomarkers – not a one-time test for a single biomarker – is needed to adequately determine the risk and timing of brain injury for babies with HIE,” she adds.

Pediatric Academic Societies 2019 Annual Meeting presentation

  • “Serial plasma biomarkers of brain injury in infants with hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) treated with therapeutic hypothermia (TH).”
    • Saturday, April 27, 2019, 6 p.m. (EST)

Meaghan McGowan, lead author; Alexandra C. O’Kane, co-author; Gilbert Vezina, M.D.,  director, Neuroradiology Program and co-author; Tae Chang, M.D., director, Neonatal Neurology Program and co-author; and An N. Massaro, M.D., co-director of the Neonatal Neurocritical Care Program and senior author; all of Children’s National; and co-author Allen Everett, of Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

newborn kangaroo care

Boosting parental resilience in the NICU

newborn kangaroo care

Preliminary findings from an ongoing cross-sectional study presented during the American Academy of Pediatrics 2018 National Conference & Exhibition suggests a strong relationship between resilience and the presence of social support, which may help parents to better contend with psychological distress related to their preterm infant being in the NICU.

Resilience is the remarkable ability of some people to bounce back and overcome stress, trauma and adversity. Being resilient is especially important for parents whose babies are born prematurely – a condition that predisposes these children to numerous health risks both immediately and far into the future and that often triggers a stay in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1 in 10 U.S. infants was born preterm in 2016.

Parents of these vulnerable newborns who feel less resilient may experience more symptoms of psychological distress, including depression and anxiety. However, preliminary findings from an ongoing cross-sectional study presented during the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) National Conference & Exhibition suggests a strong relationship between resilience and the presence of social support, which may help parents to better contend with psychological distress related to their preterm infant being in the NICU.

“Oftentimes, parenting a child in the NICU can be a time of crisis for families,” says Ololade A. Okito, M.D., FAAP, a Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine Fellow at Children’s National Health System who presented the preliminary study results during the 2018 AAP conference. “Studies have indicated a relationship between higher resilience and a reduction in psychological stress in other groups of people. However, it was unclear whether that finding also applies to parents of infants in the NICU.”

Because parental psychological distress can impact the quality of parent-child interactions, the Children’s research team wants to evaluate the relationship between resilience and psychological distress in these parents and to gauge whether activities that parents themselves direct, like the skin-to-skin contact that accompanies kangaroo care, helps to bolster resiliency.

So far, they have analyzed data from 30 parents of preterm infants in the NICU and used a number of validated instruments to assess parental resilience, depressive symptoms, anxiety, NICU-related stress and perceived social support, including:

The infants were born at a mean gestational age of 29.2 weeks. When their newborns were 2 weeks old:

  • 44 percent of parents (16 of 30) reported higher resilience
  • 37 percent of parents (11 of 30) screened positive for having elevated symptoms of depression and
  • 33 percent of parents had elevated anxiety.

“These early findings appear to support a relationship between low parental resilience scores and higher scores for depression, anxiety and NICU-related stress. These same parents were less likely to participate in kangaroo care and had lower social support. By contrast, parents who had more social support – including  receiving support from family, friends and significant others – had higher resilience scores,” says Lamia Soghier, M.D., FAAP, CHSE, Medical Unit Director of Children’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and senior study author.

The study is an offshoot from “Giving Parents Support (GPS) after NICU discharge,” a large, randomized clinical trial exploring whether providing peer-to-peer parental support after NICU discharge improves babies’ overall health as well as their parents’ mental health. The research team hopes to complete study enrollment in early 2019.

American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference & Exhibition presentation

  • “Parental resilience and psychological distress in the neonatal intensive care unit (PARENT) study.”

Ololade A. Okito, M.D., FAAP, Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine Fellow and presenting author; Yvonne Yui, M.D.; Nicole Herrera, MPH, Children’s Research Institute; Randi Streisand, Ph.D., Chief, Division of Psychology and Behavioral Health; Carrie Tully, Ph.D.; Karen Fratantoni, M.D., MPH, Medical Director of the Complex Care Program; and Senior Author, Lamia Soghier, M.D., FAAP, CHSE, Medical Unit Director, Neonatal Intensive Care Unit; all of Children’s National Health System.

Treating injured adolescents at pediatric trauma centers associated with lower mortality

Swanson Russell photo shoot trauma emergency department Brand Photos FY13

As children mature into adolescence, they also transition from being cared for by pediatric healthcare providers to being cared for by health professionals who primarily treat adults. Controversy remains about whether a primarily pediatric or adult treatment location is optimal to meet the needs of injured adolescents. For this reason, the cutoff age for triaging children to pediatric versus adult trauma hospitals varies in different settings. A research team led by Randall S. Burd, MD, PhD, Chief of the Children’s National Health System Division of Trauma and Burn Surgery, found that injured adolescents treated at pediatric trauma centers (PTCs) had a lower mortality rate than injured adolescents treated at adult trauma centers (ATCs) or mixed trauma centers (MTCs), facilities that treat both adults and children, even when controlling for differences in patients.Trauma is a leading cause of death and acquired disability among adolescents. To determine any potential association between the type of trauma center and mortality rates, the research team examined 29,613  records for patients aged 15 to 19 years old drawn from the 2010 National Trauma Data Bank.“Trauma centers dedicated to the treatment of pediatric patients see a different adolescent population than do ATCs and MTCs,” Dr. Burd and colleagues write in an article published June 27 by JAMA Pediatrics. “After controlling for these differences, we observed that adolescent trauma patients have lower overall and in-hospital mortality when treated at PTCs.”

These findings, bolstered by additional research, have the potential to change the approach for triaging injured adolescents, says Dr. Burd, the paper’s senior author. The study findings suggest that commonly used age thresholds of 14 or 15 years might be safely adjusted higher.

Because the data were obtained from a large dataset, making that case will require closer examination – perhaps chart-by-chart analysis for each patient – to tease out nuances that differentiate care adolescents receive at different types of trauma hospitals, Dr. Burd says. “Are there differences in the process of care – or availability of specific resources – that account for the differences in outcome? Or, do the patients treated at each hospital type have differences in their injuries that we have not yet identified?”

Most adolescents (68.9 percent) included in the study were treated at an adult trauma center. In addition to being older, these youths were more likely to be severely injured and more frequently suffered severe injuries to the head, chest, and upper extremities. The most common traumatic injuries seen at adult centers resulted from children being passengers in motor vehicles (32.6 percent). Penetrating injuries from firearms (12 percent) and cutting or piercing (7.1 percent) were more common at adult centers.

Some 1,636 patients (5.5 percent) were treated at a pediatric trauma center, with many being transferred there from another hospital. Adolescents treated at pediatric trauma centers were more likely to be injured by a blunt rather than penetrating mechanism. The most common injuries seen at pediatric centers were injuries from a fall (25.9 percent) or injuries that resulted from being struck (26.1 percent).

“Because adolescents straddle the gap between pediatric and adult medicine, identifying differences in care among PTCs, ATCs, and MTCs will help determine the most appropriate triage strategies or identify practice strategies that can optimize the outcome for patients in this age group,” the authors conclude.

Related resources: Research at a Glance 

Association Seen Between Trauma Center Type and Mortality Risk for Injured Youths

Swanson Russell photo shoot trauma emergency department Brand Photos FY13

What’s Known
Trauma is the leading cause of death among children and young adults in the United States, but controversy remains about which treatment location is optimal to meet the needs of injured adolescent patients. Pediatric trauma centers tailor care to children’s unique physiological,anatomical, and social needs. Yet, there are variations in the cutoff age used to triage children to either pediatric or adult trauma centers, with the usual decision to triage children to pediatric facilities if they are younger than 14 or 15 and to transport them to adult systems if they are older. A 2015 study found that injured children aged 18 or younger treated at pediatric trauma centers had lower in-hospital mortality.

What’s New
A team led by Children’s National Health System researchers examined 29,613 de-identified records for patients aged 15 to 19 years old drawn from the 2010 National Trauma Data Bank to determine associations between the type of trauma center and youths’ mortality rates. Some 68.9 percent of injured youths were treated at adult trauma centers (ATCs), while 25.6 percent were seen at mixed trauma centers (MTCs), and 5.5 percent at pediatric trauma centers (PTCs). Mortality was higher among youths treated at ATCs (3.2 percent) and MTCs (3.5 percent) than for adolescents seen at PTCs (0.4 percent), P < .001. The adjusted odds of mortality were higher at ATCs (4.19) and MTCs (6.68 ) compared with PTCs (0.76). While the research team saw differences in mortality between trauma center type, the study does not provide information about what may account for these differences.

Questions for Future Research

  • What is the best method to determine differences in treatment practices between trauma center types to better explain differences in the mortality rates of injured adolescents?
  • Which specific qualities are common to trauma centers that provide optimal outcomes to children, and can quality-improvement initiatives help to identify and replicate those attributes elsewhere?

Source: “Association Between Trauma Center Type and Mortality Among Injured Adolescent Patients. R.B. Webman, E.A. Carter, S. Mittal, J. Wang, C. Sathya, A. Nathens, M. Nance, D. Madigan, and R. Burd. Published online by JAMA Pediatrics June 27, 2016.