Brooke Edwards ’23 is one of the finalists of the 9th annual Association of Pacific Rim Universities (APRU) Global Health Student Poster Contest. The recent USC alumna was invited to attend the APRU Global Health Conference at the Tecnologico de Monterrey in Mexico City, Mexico held from October 25-27, 2023. Edwards’ poster highlights the benefits of physical therapy among liver transplant candidates and the importance of providing access to health services to support successful health outcomes.
Edwards is a first-generation college graduate who works at Keck Medicine of USC. This is where her passion for transplant work began. She joined their call team in 2018, working to facilitate the transplant process for liver, kidney, and pancreas patients. While she was working full-time in 2020, she began to pursue her Master of Public Health degree from the Department of Population and Public Health Sciences at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.
“I grew up doing missionary work with my family and this exposed me to global health and inequities in other countries,” Edwards reveals. “When we think of global health, we tend to think of struggles of patients in other countries, but there are people here in Los Angeles that do not have access to the care they need. So, I chose a career path that would focus on health services and policy development here in the US.” Earlier this year, when the APRU put out a call for abstracts, Edward’s submitted a poster centering on her work which aims to provide access to health services to support the needs of liver transplant patients.
In any abdominal transplant surgery, frailty is correlated with adverse health outcomes. “Some of our patients considered too frail to be put on the list for a transplant, and then once they are listed, there are concerns about surviving such an intense surgery and their outcomes post-surgery,” she explains. The objective of Edward’s intervention was to use a liver frailty index tool to objectively assess the health of patients requiring a liver transplant. The goal was to connect patients who were classified as ‘frail’ or ‘pre-frail’ to physical therapy or occupational therapy services to optimize their health. She would connect these patients to resources within the hospital or close to wherever they lived to improve their chances of receiving a liver transplant.
“This intervention was great because we began using a validated tool to measure frailty in this patient population, “she expresses. Edward’s findings revealed that almost half (47%) of the patients requiring a liver transplant were frail and needed to be connected to services—which were available within the hospital. The introduction of this tool resulted in an 85% increase in inpatient physical therapy evaluations compared to before the initiative.
The project provided an opportunity for the multidisciplinary liver transplant team to engage with frail patients who were not eligible to be waitlisted. “We worked with them to get them healthy enough to make the list through the provision of direct access to physical therapy,” she indicates. Since its introduction, the transplant team comprised of dieticians, surgeons, and social workers have been receptive and excited about the initiative.
“I was excited to share this research at the conference and network with people from around the world,” remarks Edwards, who received a travel scholarship from the Department of Population and Public Health Sciences to attend the conference. “I’m looking forward to publishing our findings so that people in other countries that are working on transplant teams can share this knowledge with each other about the types of issues this patient population experiences,” she concludes.