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Med student aspires to cut ICU pneumonia rates

Fawad Ahmed hopes the result of his summer labour will be far fewer people contracting pneumonia after they’re admitted to an intensive care unit.

Under the direction of nursing professor and faculty research leadership chair Maher El-Masri, who specializes in hospital-acquired infections, Ahmed spent the summer studying past cases of ventilator associated pneumonia at Windsor Regional Hospital.
“People in ICU are usually very sick and can’t control their own breathing so they need to be ventilated,” explained Ahmed, who enters his third year at the Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry – Windsor Program this fall. “When you run a tube down someone’s throat there’s a greater risk for bacteria to enter.”

Safer Healthcare Now!, the flagship program of the Canadian Patient Safety Institute, tries to improve patient safety by implementing preventative measures known to  reduce avoidable harm. Over the past decade, the organization incrementally introduced various protocols to help reduce these pneumonias. Some of those include raising the head of the bed, improved mouth hygiene to prevent colonization of bacteria and temporarily interrupting sedation to conduct spontaneous breathing trials.

Ahmed is doing a retrospective study on ICU patients at Windsor Regional from 2006 to 2010. He spent the summer looking back at all the records of patients who were admitted during that time, determining who received which measures in order to figure out the most effective ones for preventing ventilator associated pneumonia.

“It’s a neat study because it’s never been done before,” said Ahmed, who noted that Windsor Regional already has a good record of preventing the disease. “It will help policy makers and health care professionals take better care of their patients in the ICU.”

Ahmed, who received a grant from the Summer Research Opportunity Program to study the issue, said the medical school here has an atmosphere that’s very conducive for students to conduct research. However, his interest and passion for research was originally ignited by Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research geneticist Dan Heath, who he worked with on studying the DNA of Chinook salmon while still an undergrad in biology.

“I really learned a lot,” said Ahmed, who grew up in Windsor and attended W.F. Herman Secondary School. “If I was anywhere else, I never would have got the chance.”

Ahmed made a number of trips to the hospital this summer and got to interact with respiratory therapists and other health care professionals. Although he hasn’t decided on a specialty for when he begins his residency, the hospital experience has him leaning towards internal medicine because he discovered he loves working with patients as well as other health care providers.

Editor's note: this is one of a series of articles about students from across campus who were engaged in cool research projects and other activities during the summer.