By Laura Freeman
Experience can be a strong source of inspiration. Many who go into healing professions can trace their interest back to a time when they or someone near them went through a health challenge.
For Luke Bice, being born with a serious heart defect originally led him to want to become a neonatal cardiothoracic surgeon. “I wanted to help save babies with congenital heart defects,” he said. “After a couple of years studying biology on the premed track, it seemed that treatment for these types of disorders was already well-advanced. I talked with a friend’s father who worked with a large healthcare organization and realized that healthcare administration offered the potential for creating beneficial changes on a broad scale. So I changed my major at Samford University to Healthcare Administration.”
During a course in contemporary issues in healthcare, Bice went to instructor Courtney N. Haun, PhD, MPH, to ask about opportunities to participate in research.
“I challenged Luke to think about topics that would be of particular interest to him,” Haun said. “He shared that he had been born with a critical congenital heart defect (CCHD). I suggested that he look into the topic to see if he could identify an area where more data research was needed.”
Bice, who grew up in Geneva, Illinois, was diagnosed at birth with dextro-transposition of the great arteries (D-TGA), with the aorta and pulmonary artery reversed where they connect to the heart, preventing it from pumping oxygenated blood throughout the body.
“I was air lifted to UNC Children’s Hospital, where I received an open heart surgery called an Arterial Switch operation,” he said. “Since then, I have been blessed with good health and have not been physically or mentally limited. The condition is not expected to cause any future problems.”
In reviewing related literature, Bice found a study in JAMA about newborn screening for heart defects and the lives those screenings had potentially saved. He noticed that the findings in the study had only been reported through 2013.
“Luke set out to bring those findings up to date and expand the study as far out as available data allowed,” Haun said. “We worked together to set up a format for gathering aggregate state-level data from the CDC for analysis to evaluate CCHD and CCHD-related deaths in the U.S. between January 1, 2007 and December 31, 2019.”
Bice said, “The study includes data from before and after implementation of mandatory screenings for CCHDs. 13 conditions included in the study were identified through the CCHD-related ICD-10 codes provided by the National Library of Medicine’s Newborn Screening and Coding Terminology Guide.”
Findings from the research project showed a decline in early infant death rates due to CCHDs associated with a nationwide mandatory screening policy. This provides support for policies such as a pulse ox mandate that improves care and saves lives.
Haun said, “The research project was an incredible accomplishment for an undergraduate student. The initial findings were presented at the 2022 Alabama Academy of Sciences Conference. Positive feedback and suggestions helped to tailor the study design. Then Luke presented a poster at the 2022 Samford Research Colloquia.”
Before submitting an article on the research for publication in a peer-reviewed journal, Bice and Haun felt the project could be further improved by input from experts in the field. David Naftel, MD, 2021 Pediatric Heart Transplant Society Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, came to Samford and met with Bice and Haun. His expertise in statistics and pediatric heart health provided insights that were beneficial in preparing the manuscript.
The Status of Critical Congenital Heart Defect Infant Deaths After Pulse-Oximetry Screening Mandates has been accepted for publication in The Journal of the Alabama Academy of Science.
Mentoring is another form of paying it forward, passing on skills and knowledge to the next generation. “It has been a blessing to serve as a research mentor to Luke, connect with experts in this particular area, and see Luke’s passion for this field be brought to fruition,” Haun said.
“Dr. Haun’s guidance and help were essential to making this research possible,” Bice said. “We hope our research will provide insights into the effectiveness of such policies and support their continued use in reducing infant mortality as well as saving lives and improving health in people of all ages.”