Town official travels the world for medical science: UMass group studies risks of blood clots
By Rushmie Kalke TELEGRAM & GAZETTE STAFF
WESTBORO- Where in the world was Leigh?
Last month Leigh A. Emery was noticeably absent from her duties as town selectman. Updates on her whereabouts - Panama City, Dubai, Mumbai - could be overheard in the chatter before the meetings.
At one meeting, Chairman George Barrette said Ms. Emery's planned stop in Bangkok had been canceled because of a military coup in Thailand, but her visit to Bangladesh went well. Had she started working for National Geographic? Was she on a monthlong cruise?
The impetus for Ms. Emery's travels wasn't a new career or a vacation. She visited five countries and doctors from 11 nations to research venous thromboembolism, a condition in which blood clots form in the veins.
The survey, called ENDORSE and funded by the Sanofi-aventis Group, a pharmaceutical company, is trying to determine who is at risk for developing clots and how many at-risk patients receive preventive care.
The project is managed by University of Massachusetts Medical School's Center for Outcomes Research, and the results will come from a sample of 50,000 patients from 400 hospitals in 30 countries.
Venous thrombosis is the greatest cause of preventable hospital death, said Ms. Emery, a registered nurse and a senior project coordinator at the Center for Outcomes Research. Two million people are affected each year in the United States by deep-vein thrombosis blood clots, which can be fatal if left undiagnosed and untreated. In fact, 200,000 people die annually from complications with deep-vein blood clots.
To train hospitals on the study's protocol, Ms. Emery and two colleagues from the center divided up countries to travel to and run training seminars. The colleagues were Frederick A. Anderson Jr., the study's coordinating director, and Max Zayaruzny, a third-year surgical resident at UMass Medical School.
Ms. Emery went to Panama, Brazil, Dubai, Bangladesh, and India, meeting with doctors from Venezuela, Kuwait, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Columbia, and Thailand. Other countries in the study include the United States, Spain, Greece, Israel, Tunisia, France, Russia and Egypt.
The patient surveys will be collected this month and sent to the center in Worcester for analysis. Ms. Emery said she was struck by the dedication of the doctors she met, many of whom had been trained abroad but returned to their homelands to make a difference.
She recalled a doctor she met in a hospital in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
"It was 9 p.m., and I was walking around with this doctor, who actually had the day off. But she was worried about a patient with dengue fever, a tropical disease that affects the body's fluid balance. Once they hit shock, that's it. Well, one young man had it, and she wanted to be there for him. The dedication I saw was overwhelming. It was very impressive. Despite the deficits to their infrastructure and the low wages, they are there."
Ms. Emery started her career at UMass Medical Center 25 years ago as a pediatric nurse practitioner. Since then she has held various positions in the hospital network: as the director of ambulatory nursing, and the coordinator of a statewide $12 million initiative to improve access to primary care and create a network of community physician practices in the area.
In her third year with the Center for Outcomes Research, this is the first time she has traveled for a study.
"I would absolutely do it again," Ms. Emery said. "It gives you a background in planning a study."
While much of her time was spent working, Ms. Emery got a chance to sightsee and take in local culture. Her foreign hosts took her out to dinner, she ventured to Agra, India, to see the Taj Mahal, and she went to the Panama Canal.
Going to the National Museum in Dhaka brought her to tears. As she was leaving, a photograph of a young Bangladeshi girl caught her eye.
"The girl in the photo was used as a sex slave. She had been liberated, but the look in her eyes said she would never be free. That really pushed me over the edge.
"I was in the Peace Corps in Iran from 1968 to 1970. I knew how fortunate I was being born here. Twenty years ago I traveled to Mexico and saw the unrest there.
"This was the first time in two decades that I was visiting places that are trying to overcome public health, political, environmental and social problems. It was disturbing to see the degradation around some of the cities."
Her experiences have inspired her to strengthen her Spanish skills and become bilingual so she can learn more about world history.
"It has made me ask myself, 'What am I doing? Am I doing enough?'