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Nephrology

Inside Pediatrics, Nephrology

Becoming the Leaders in Treating Congenital Nephrotic Syndrome

It is one of the most challenging congenital kidney conditions pediatric nephrologists see. Called  congenital nephrotic syndrome (CNS), it is an extremely rare genetic disease that affects the glomerular filtration system of the kidneys, leading to tremendous loss of protein through the urine. The result is extensive edema, skin breakdown and impaired respiration.

And that’s just the beginning, said Daniel Feig, M.D., Ph.D., the Margaret M. Porter Endowed Chair in Pediatric Nephology at Children’s of Alabama and the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB).“These kids are very susceptible to infections because so many immune chemicals are lost in the urine,” he said. They are also prone to blood clots because of low water volume and poor circulation, which can severely damage other organs, leading to bowel infarction and stroke. “They also become very malnourished because they can’t take in enough protein to keep up with the losses through the urine,” he said.

Symptoms usually appear by 2 months of age. “But because this is a structural problem in the kidney filters, there is no medicine that stops it,” he said. Early management involves trying to replace lost protein, “but that’s usually not enough.” Second-line management includes medications to slow kidney function, “but now we’re walking a tightrope of impaired kidney function to reduce protein losses.”

Eventually, the kidneys need to be removed so the child can receive enough nourishment. That means dialysis until they can receive a transplant.

“They’re a challenge,” he said. “But over the years, we’ve had very good success in moving down the pathway and getting them transplanted and they do well.” Because the condition is so rare, most pediatric nephrologists only see one or two patients their entire career. But word of Children’s program has spread, and today the team is treating patients from throughout the south.

“As a program we are happy to take care of these kids and share our expertise with other programs,” Feig said. One challenge has been reimbursement since health insurance may not cover out-of-state care. “We’re negotiating with other states and our own internal services to accept what we can get and then just take care of the kids, he said, adding, “A big shout out to the flexibility of the institution to allow us to do this.”

The goal is to build a center of excellence for children with CNS that demonstrates not only superior outcomes, he said, but cost savings.  

Becoming a referral center also allows greater clinical research into the disease, Feig said. Clinical trials for new therapies are difficult to conduct because there are so few children with the disease. But Children’s is slowly building a repository of biometric information and tissue for future research. “We don’t have a faculty researcher right now who is focused on CNS, but as we continue to recruit faculty that’s an untapped opportunity.” All the challenges of caring for these kids, he said, is worth it once they get a transplant. “They grow and develop and play just like all other small children. It’s a boon to these families who go through this terrible neonatal course and then get their kids back.”

Inside Pediatrics, Nephrology

Managing COVID-19 in the Dialysis Unit

When COVID-19 hit in early March, hospitals, including Children’s of Alabama, pivoted to telehealth appointments and canceled non-urgent procedures. But that’s not an option for children who need dialysis, particularly since Children’s is the only hospital in Alabama providing pediatric dialysis.

“We were running at full staff and operating as usual,” said Suzanne White, dialysis director at Children’s renal care center. That meant seeing hemodialysis patients three times a week, home dialysis patients once a month, and implementing protocols to reduce the risk of infection to patients and staff. It also meant that even if a patient tested positive for COVID-19, they still had to come to the hospital for dialysis. “You can’t reschedule dialysis if you have COVID,” said Sahar Fathallah-Shaykh, M.D., a pediatric nephrologist at Children’s and the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). The task was made more challenging as with kidney transplants on hold, the dialysis center was seeing twice as many patients.

Among the changes the unit implemented:

  • Moving hemodialysis patients to peritoneal (home) dialysis whenever possible to limit visits to the hospital. This posed its own challenges, including training family members and coordinating with surgeons. “We did more peritoneal dialysis surgeries in those early months than we had done in years,” Fathallah-Shaykh said.
  • Limiting visitors in the unit. “We could accommodate eight patients at one time but we couldn’t have people gathering,” White said.” That meant families calling from the parking lot when they arrived, mask wearing, initial screening when they entered the hospital, and more advanced screening before they entered the dialysis unit. We drilled down to avoid screening fatigue,” she said.
  • Extensive education with families about COVID-19 and risk mitigation. “We had to make sure they realized the impact of this illness,” Fathallah-Shaykh said.
  • Treating COVID-positive patients in an isolation room when the unit was empty and implementing a special deep cleaning process.

“We were diligent because we knew what the illness could cause,” White said. The team was particularly concerned about the staff. Dialysis nurses require extensive training, and there are few available if one becomes sick. “If several got sick, it would be a disaster,” Fathallah-Shaykh said. In the end, just four staff and four patients tested positive, all community acquired. And, Fathallah-Shaykh stressed, “We never relaxed our standards. We added COVID to our high standard of care; we didn’t adjust our standard of care for COVID.”

Inside Pediatrics, Nephrology

Improving Renal Transplant Outcomes

Blood pressure is one of the most basic biometrics, taken nearly every time someone visits a health care provider. It’s also one of the most important indicators of kidney problems in both native and transplanted kidneys, with studies suggesting a direct benefit of maintaining normal blood pressures on transplant outcomes.

But taking a child’s blood pressure when they’re seen in clinic provides just a snapshot in time in a non-standard environment that can be associated with high anxiety, said Michael E. Seifert, M.D., a pediatric nephrologist at Children’s of Alabama and the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). That’s why the gold standard for assessing blood pressure control is a 24-hour ambulatory blood pressure monitor, which the Pediatric Kidney Transplant Program strives to perform at least once a year in each eligible patient. The device takes and records blood pressure every 30-60 minutes, providing a slew of important information for clinicians. In fact, studies suggest that ambulatory blood pressures are a better predictor of long-term cardiovascular outcomes than clinic blood pressures.

It can also highlight unique blood pressure patterns in children with transplants that can’t be detected with the occasional clinic visit, such as masked hypertension, when blood pressure is normal in the clinic but high the rest of the day. Or nocturnal hypertension, in which it is only high at night or when the patient is asleep. A normal pattern for blood pressure over a 24-hour period is called nocturnal dipping, where the blood pressure is lower during the nighttime and sleep periods than when patients are awake.

However, when the staff dug into its data, they found that only about 20% to 25% of their eligible patients had had an ambulatory blood pressure monitor in the past year. So they launched a quality improvement project as part of the Improving Renal Outcomes Collaborative (IROC), a learning health system of 32 pediatric kidney transplant centers in the U.S. that share data and best practices in an effort to improve transplant outcomes. The quality improvement project was supported by a Quality Improvement Award from the Kaul Pediatric Research Institute at Children’s of Alabama.

The team already had a weekly pre-visit planning meeting in place that helped prepare for each patient’s needs during the next week of clinics. They used that opportunity to generate lists of patients who had not had the ambulatory blood pressure monitor, and systematically made it a part of the transplant anniversary visits. After just six months, placement rates jumped to over 40%, even throughout the pandemic and telehealth visits.

“We are really proud of our team for being able to improve and sustain that during some pretty challenging conditions,” Seifert said.

Even more important, in about three-fourths of the patients, the ambulatory blood pressures turned up a problem that required intervention.

“We assumed we were doing a great job with this because we’re nephrologists and we have hypertension clinics focused on proper blood pressure measurement and control,” Seifert said. “But until you start looking hard at your data, you can’t presume you’re doing as well as you think you are. We didn’t know we needed to improve until we turned the lens on it.” The project has been so successful other solid organ transplant programs at Children’s are also considering implementing it as part of their cardiovascular risk assessments.

Inside Pediatrics, Nephrology, Uncategorized

Food as Medicine: Bringing Nutrition to Dialysis Patients with Food Insecurity

Children’s of Alabama Dialysis Director Sahar Fathallah-Shaykh, M.D., and her team developed the Food as Medicine Program in spring 2020. Families who qualify based on income and expenses receive a monthly box of non-perishable supplies for their child, as well as support from a renal dietician in how to use them.

When it comes to kids on dialysis, food really is medicine. “We can provide state-of-the-art dialysis treatment and medications, but if they don’t follow a strict diet, they don’t do well,” said Children’s of Alabama Dialysis Director Sahar Fathallah-Shaykh, M.D. That includes a higher risk of hospital admission, infections and even mortality. Plus, it may make them ineligible for transplant because of poor healing, increased risk of infection and poor outcome.

The strict diets are very low in potassium, salt and phosphorus, with no processed or fast food. “This leaves a majority of our patients with a very difficult-to-obtain diet,” she said, particularly since half have significant food insecurity. “If we can’t meet the basic need of food, we’re not helping them that much.”

Which is why she and her team developed the Food as Medicine program in the spring of 2020. Families who qualify based on income and expenses receive a monthly box of non-perishable supplies for their child, as well as support from a renal dietician in how to use them.

“When we started we were hoping to provide them with fresh ingredients once a week, but then COVID came,” Fathallah-Shaykh said, restricting the ability of families to pick up the food on a weekly basis.

Packages include almond milk, rice, pasta, butter, animal crackers, dried herbs and seasonings, grains, cereals, oils for cooking, canned fruits and unsalted vegetables, canned tuna and chicken, and even snacks such as unsalted pretzels and Rice Krisipies Treats. Once the pandemic ends, “we hope that fresh vegetables will join the mix,” Fathallah-Shaykh said.

The unit typically has about 25 patients on dialysis and about half qualify for the program. They claim their boxes when they come for treatment.

The program has been funded, in part, by the Children’s Table fundraiser, a food event and fundraiser to raise awareness about the importance of dietary choices in the health of children and management of pediatric disease. In past years, participants enjoyed tasting plates, signature cocktails, beer, wine and dessert from some of the top chefs in the state. The event has raised more than $100,000 over the past three years to support families’ nutritional needs.

Now the team is trying to figure out how to keep the program going given the COVID-19 pandemic and the challenge it presents for in-person events.

“Without that funding,” Fathallah-Shaykh said, “these children may die if we don’t help them with their basic dietary needs. It’s really that serious.”

Inside Pediatrics, Neonatology, Nephrology

Teaching the Rest of the World How to Care for Babies and Small Children on Dialysis

A Children’s of Alabama team member attends to an infant patient simulator during a NICKS presentation in the Children’s Simulation Center. NICKS, the Neonatal and Infant Course for Kidney Support, is an education program combining specialist instruction, parent perspectives and hands-on training and support.

Children’s of Alabama provides more days of dialysis to babies than any institution in the world. Indeed, Children’s nephrologists and intensivists pioneered the use of dialysis in newborns and young children by retrofitting a machine used for adult heart failure patients. Now, with U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved dialysis machines for young children on the market, the team has been inundated with requests from other hospitals for training and information.

The result is the Neonatal and Infant Course for Kidney Support (NICKS), a one-and-a-half day educational program that combines didactic teaching from a variety of specialists, an opportunity to have a parental perspective, “hands-on” skills sessions and virtual small group case simulations.

 “As medicine advances and we continue to create innovative answers to problems, it is imperative that we offer up what we have learned in a practical, ‘hands-on’ way,” said course co-founder and acute dialysis nurse practitioner Kara Short, MSN, CRNP.

“There’s a huge need across the country and across the world for people to understand how dialysis is different for newborns and small kids,” said course co-founder David Askenazi, M.D., MsPH, FASN, who directs the Pediatric and Infant Center for Acute Nephrology (PICAN) at Children’s. “We cover the whole gamut of how to build a program with the hope that we can educate them, inspire them and provide them with tools so they can go back to their institutions and succeed in caring for small kids.”

While the course was originally designed to be held in person, COVID-19 forced it online. That hasn’t hurt its popularity. The first course, held in July, sold out in a few days and by early September there was a 20-person waiting list for the October program. Participants have come from throughout the world, including Israel, Qatar, and Canada. The interest has been so great that Short and Askenazi doubled the number of participants from 20 to 40.

“The feedback has been tremendous,” said Short. Among the comments she’s received from participants:

  • “I loved this! I was very impressed with the overall quality. Well done, I really enjoyed it!”
  • “The conference was extremely well run, efficient and very informative. I know I learned a lot.”
  • “Excellent job on your inaugural course. Would highly recommend.”
  • “Enjoyed attending with lots of good information.  Looking forward to reviewing policies to help grow our own program.”

The plan is to continue offering the virtual course every three to four months. For information, contactDavid Askenazi, M.D., MsPH, FASN at daskenazi@peds.uab.edu or Kara Short, MSN, CRNP at kara.short@childrensal.org.

Inside Pediatrics, Nephrology

Working to Improve Kidney Health in Developing Countries

Children’s of Alabama pediatric nephrologist Erica Christen Bjornstad, M.D., Ph.D., MPH, hopes to bring her deep knowledge of unmet nephrology needs in underdeveloped countries through the hospital’s existing relationship with the Centre for Infectious Disease Research in Zambia (CIDRZ).

Pediatric nephrologist Erica Christen Bjornstad, M.D., Ph.D., MPH, has been working inglobal health since college. As a Peace Corps volunteer she served as a rural public health volunteer in Ecuador, and in the years after brought her public health expertise to Peru, Afghanistan, Malawi, and Tanzania. In fact, it was her work with trauma surgeons in Malawi, one of the five poorest countries in the world, during her fellowship at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill that stoked her interest in acute kidney injury (AKI).

The condition is a significant cause of morbidity and mortality in the post-surgical and ICU setting and is typically diagnosed late in the disease state when severe kidney damage may have already occurred. In poor countries like Malawi, which don’t have the infrastructure required to obtain and run laboratory blood tests, the diagnosis may never come. Patients then develop end-stage renal failure but have little, if any, access to dialysis.

During her fellowship, Bjornstad brought a point-of-care urine dipstick test to Malawi to provide instant results on kidney function. Now at Children’s of Alabama, she hopes to bring that test – and her deep knowledge of the unmet nephrology needs in developing countries— to Zambia through the hospital’s existing relationship with the Centre for Infectious Disease Research in Zambia (CIDRZ). “Zambia is better off than Malawi,” she said, “but still struggles with a lot of scarcities and lab shortages.” COVID-19 has exacerbated those problems exponentially, she said. “Having a point-of-care test would be quite valuable.”

Such partnerships are what enticed her to Children’s in 2019 when she finished her fellowship. It was important, she said, that the pediatrics department at the University of Alabama Birmingham (UAB) wants to build its global health presence in a sustainable way, “not popping in and popping out.”

That means providing the education and support to work alongside a developing country improving its own medical infrastructure. The people who live in the country “are 100 times more prepared to ask the right questions and provide potential solutions that we never would have thought of,” she said, “because they are there and they know what works and what doesn’t.”

The relationships we build with these institutions, if done right, can lead to great changes in both,” she said. “But we have to be careful that it is done in a thoughtful way and that the U.S. side is not doing all the benefitting.” The CIDRZ/UAB partnership, she said, exemplifies sustainability.

But there needs to be more focus on kidney disease. “The need for nephrology is underappreciated and often overlooked in global health until there is a very dire medical emergency,” she said. So finding ways to bring the specialty to areas with few resources – as with a dipstick – is critical. “I can’t take a lab machine on the plane with me,” she said. “But if I can throw some dipsticks in my pack and diagnose AKI, that could be revolutionary.”

Cardiology, Inside Pediatrics, Nephrology

Children’s of Alabama Leads Consortium Dedicated to Improving Outcomes in Cardiac Surgery-Acute Kidney Injury

NEPHRON_WEB

Children’s of Alabama is one of 22 hospitals in the U.S. that is a member of the Neonatal and Pediatric Heart and Renal Outcomes Network (NEPHRON).

Neonatal acute kidney injury (AKI) occurs in 52 to 64 percent of patients undergoing cardiac surgery (CS) and is associated with increased morbidity and mortality.

However, because CS-AKI rates vary widely between centers, it appears that interventions to prevent or mitigate the condition could reduce the overall rate.

Yet, noted Santiago Borasino, M.D., medical director of Children’s of Alabama’s Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit (CVICU), “there are critical gaps in our understanding as to how to best define CS-AKI, who is at risk, and which patients could best benefit from interventions to prevent or  mitigate the effects of CS-AKI.”

To improve understanding of CS-AKI in this population, Borasino is one of the leaders of the Neonatal and Pediatric Heart and Renal Outcomes Network (NEPHRON), composed of 22 children’s hospitals around the country. The consortium’s goals are to describe neonatal kidney injury epidemiology, evaluate variability in diagnosis and management, identify risk factors, investigate the impact of fluid overload and explore associations with outcomes. It involves multidisciplinary teams including clinicians from cardiac critical care, cardiology, nephrology, and cardiac surgery.

“NEPHRON is providing multicenter data on CS-AKI for the first time,” Borasino said. “The large size of the cohort will enable us to look at details that are not possible with single-center studies.”

NEPHRON published its preliminary results in April 2019, reporting an overall incidence of 54 percent among 2,240 patients in its database.[1] In November 2019, NEPHRON presented additional results during the American Heart Association’s annual meeting, showing a threefold variation in rates among centers, from 27 percent to 86 percent, with significant variations in KDIGO stage (adult AKI definition) to identify AKI (65 percent by oligo oligo-anuria versus 35 percent by creatinine).

The results also showed that the use of cardiopulmonary bypass, but not time spent on bypass, increased the odds of CS-AKI, and that only KDIGO Stage 3 was associated with mortality. There was no impact of CS-AKI on the duration of mechanical ventilation or hospital length of stay.[2]

“NEPHRON preliminary results highlight the limitations of the KDIGO definition and the need to better understand CS-AKI as it occurs with incredible variability among centers, opening the door for future quality improvement intervention,” Borasino said.

The next step is to develop an algorithm to predict which patients are more likely to develop AKI so physicians can intervene earlier. “Early recognition and proper management of AKI are at the forefront of critical care medicine,” said Children’s of Alabama pediatric nephrologist Tennille Webb, M.D. “However, most pediatric hospitals that perform cardiac surgeries do not have protocols in place for managing severe AKI post-operatively.” Webb is now working on developing a clinical pathway to identify patients at increased risk of AKI based on specific patient characteristics. “An advantage to developing this algorithm in the CVICU is that we are able to determine the exact timing and etiology of AKI development in individuals undergoing cardiopulmonary bypass,” she said. “If we can proactively identify risk factors that place these individuals at increased risk for AKI, we can provide earlier intervention, such as early initiation of renal replacement therapy, in an effort to mitigate some of the known severe consequences of AKI.”

“The work that we are doing is very important because we know that AKI post-cardiac surgery leads to worse outcomes and is associated with chronic kidney disease,” Webb said. “It’s great, and yet rare in other institutions, that we have been able to develop a strong relationship between the CVICU and nephrology to work as a cohesive team early AKI detection and prevention.”


[1] Gist KM, Blinder JJ, Bailly D, Neonatal and Paediatric Heart and Renal Outcomes Network: design of a multi-centre retrospective cohort study. Cardiol Young. 2019;29(4):511-518.

[2] Alten J, Cooper DS, Gist KM, et al. , Abstract 13177: Epidemiology of Neonatal Cardiac Surgery Induced Acute Kidney Injury From the Neonatal and Pediatric Heart and Renal Outcomes Network. Circulation. 2019;140(Suppl1).

 

Inside Pediatrics, Nephrology

Pediatric Extracorporeal Photopheresis Offers New Option for Transplant Patients at Children’s of Alabama

Photopheresis_WEB

Children’s of Alabama nurses Daryl Ingram and Suzanne Gurosky next to the hospital’s photopheresis machine. After months of planning and training, Children’s of Alabama’s first photopheresis treatment was successfully provided on April 12, 2017. Previously, Children’s of Alabama patients were being transported to and from the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) for treatment.

Children’s of Alabama’s Acute Renal Therapy team is now able to offer extracorporeal photopheresis (ECP) for heart transplant patients experiencing chronic rejection and bone marrow transplant patients who develop graft-versus-host-disease (GVHD). It is the only program in the state to provide the service to pediatric patients.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration first approved ECP in 1988 to treat patients with a certain form of cutaneous T-cell lymphoma. Since then, ECP has demonstrated efficacy in GVHD, solid organ transplant rejection and rheumatoid arthritis, among others.

During the three-hour procedure, the patient’s leukocytes are separated from the peripheral blood, combined with a photoreactive drug and then exposed to ultraviolet irradiation, resulting in massive apoptosis. The cells are then reinfused into the patient.

It’s not quite clear how the process works, although theories suggest that when antigen-presenting cells clear the apoptotic cells, they differentiate into a more tolerogenic phenotype, resulting in decreased stimulation or depletion of effector T cells. Another theory is that it results in greater production of anti-inflammatory cytokines (interleukin 10) and reduced production of pro-inflammatory cytokines (especially interleukin 12 and TNFα), or that it triggers the generation of several T-regulatory cells.[1]

“Basically”, said Sahar Fathallah-Shaykh, M.D., medical director the Pediatric Dialysis Unit at Children’s of Alabama, “the leukocytes are now less reactive to the foreign tissue, reducing organ rejection and GVHD. However, she said, while studies find good rates of success in reversing organ rejection and GVHD, it’s not a cure. “It is used in conjunction with other immunosuppressive medications when other things haven’t worked. We add this and hopefully it works.”

Previously, Children’s of Alabama patients had to be transported to and from the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) for this treatment. “It wasn’t an ideal setup,” said David Askenazi, M.D., who directs the Pediatric and Infant Center for Acute Nephrology at Children’s of Alabama. “There were different medical record systems, which wasn’t optimal for timely patient care of pediatric patients in an adult hospital.” So when the cardiology and bone marrow transplant team needed to bring the therapy to Children’s, Askenazi and his team, which already had experience with extra-corporeal therapies, stepped forward to run it.

“Bringing the program to Children’s was challenging,” Fathallah-Shaykh said. “The medical staff and physicians required extensive training, particularly in using the single lumen port needed for vascular access, which is unique to this procedure. But it was worth it.”

“Even though we don’t have many patients who require ECP,” she said, “the message is that we’re here, we’re available and we can help improve the care of our patients in a pediatric-friendly environment with pediatric nursing care.”


[1] Klassen J. The role of photopheresis in the treatment of graft-versus-host disease. Curr Oncol. 2010 Apr; 17(2): 55–58.

 

 

Nephrology

Cutting Out Sugar Intake, One Kid at a Time

The average American consumes almost 152 pounds of sugar a year, about three pounds a week or 42.5 teaspoons a day — more than triple the recommended amount.[1] While sugar consumption isn’t the only cause of the country’s obesity epidemic, it is definitely a major contributing factor — particularly in children. And the problem is not only obesity, says pediatric nephrologist Daniel I. Feig, M.D., Ph.D., who directs the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) Division of Pediatric Nephrology at Children’s of Alabama, but all the downstream health effects of being overweight, including cardiovascular disease, hypertension, liver disease, kidney disease and type 2 diabetes.

One reason for the high sugar intake is economic. Over the past 35 years, the price of fruits and vegetables has tripled, he said, while the price of sugar-sweetened foods such as beverages fell 75%. “The availability of calories and nourishment in a low-sugar fashion is much more expensive than it was a few decades ago,” he said. “We can talk until we’re blue in the face in low-income, urban clinics about eating fruits and veggies, but that isn’t the only barrier to kids not eating them; their families can’t afford it.

Then there’s the issue of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), used as a sweetener and preservative in many foods. Research from Feig and others has found that HFCS is not simply sugar in another form but has a high relative fraction of fructose compared to glucose, which alters cellular carbohydrate metabolism. This results in a greater rise in triglycerides and uric acid than with sugar from sugar cane or sugar beets.

Researchers have also demonstrated that high levels of uric acid stiffen and thicken blood vessel walls, resulting in hypertension, as well as activating the renin-angiotensin system system, causing immediate vasoconstriction.

Clinical trials find that lowering uric acid levels in hypertensive adolescents, but not adults, improves blood pressure. “So we have a window of opportunity in children to reduce their long-term cardiovascular and renal risk factors by controlling sugar intake,” Feig said.

That’s why clinicians and nutritionists at the hypertension clinic at Children’s counsel patients and their families about the effects of sugar as well as where the sugar is found (i.e., the sweet tea that is ubiquitous throughout the South). “Adolescents get about 48% of their sugar from sugar-sweetened beverages,” Feig said, “so it isn’t a function of just telling them not to eat candy.”

“When I see a child in our hypertension clinic with obesity-related hypertension, about a third of the time very high sugar and caloric intake in their beverages, up to 2,000 calories a day, is a major contributing factor,” he said. “Simply eliminating those liquids could make a huge difference in their health.”

He cites a recent study that polled new parents about the sugar content of various foods. More than 80% of parents underestimated the sugar content of foods with a “health halo,” like fruit juice and yogurt. “We have an educational deficit in terms of dietary literacy,” he said.

“So a big push in our clinic is helping families learn more about the nutritional content of food.”

Blood Pressure Control

Learn more about the hypertension clinic at Children’s of Alabama.


[1] Department of Health and Human Services. How Much Sugar Do You Eat? You May Be Surprised! https://www.dhhs.nh.gov/dphs/nhp/documents/sugar.pdf.

Nephrology

Children’s of Alabama Becomes First to Safely Provide Dialysis to Tiny Babies

Didactic and hands-on teaching on the use of CRRT using the Aquadex Pureflow.

Despite the frequent use of dialysis for critically ill children and adults, the procedure has historically been used sparingly in neonatal intensive care units (NICU) because dialysis  machines designed for adults can cause severe complications in babies. That’s no longer the case at Children’s of Alabama.

The problem is that continuous renal replacement therapy in these tiny patients requires at least 100 ml of blood to initiate the therapy. This can be half or even more of the baby’s entire blood volume, said David Askenazi, M.D., MSPH, who directs the Pediatric and Infant Center for Acute Care Nephrology. “Many times, when we started the machine, we had to open the crash cart to resuscitate infants who were coding,” he said.

That changed in 2013, when Askenazi realized that a machine designed to remove fluid and sodium from blood in adults with heart failure — the Aquadex FlexFlow® System — could be repurposed for neonate dialysis.

“If we could adapt a machine that requires one-third of the blood of the traditional machine volume to do what we needed, we knew we could improve our ability to support these babies,” he said. So the team learned as much as they could about the device, developed a safety net of processes to maximize the likelihood of success and convinced the hospital to buy its first machine.

Today, the hospital has fiveAquadex machines and two or three babies are typically receiving dialysis at any one time. “Now we have complete control over their fluids, electrolytes and waste products,” Askenazi said, “while the nurses feel comfortable doing the therapy and the babies don’t even know they’re on it.” Last year, babies in the NICU spent a total of 800 days on dialysis compared to just 30 days in 2013.

“For our babies born with diseased or absent kidneys, Aquadex has given them a chance at life,” said NICU nurse practitioner Kara Short, MSN, CRNP, “because in the past, there were no options to treat these patients.”

The team published the results of its first 12 patients in the journal Pediatric Nephrology in 2016. Since then, they have treated more than 90 patients, the smallest just 1.2 kg (2 pounds, 7 ounces) and taught nephrologists at several other children’s hospitals around the country to use the Aquadex. However, there are still only a handful of hospitals offering the procedure.

“We have shown we can now support these babies safely,” Askenazi said. “The impetus now is on us to make sure the patients who can benefit from this therapy make it to Children’s so we can give them a chance for life.”

And the machine’s manufacturer? It is now pursuing a pediatric indication for Aquadex.

A Team Effort

Learn more about the neonatology program and team at Children’s of Alabama.