Hackensack University Medical Center Receives Federal Grant to Improve Maternal Outcomes in At-Risk Pregnancies

September 28, 2015 12:11 PM

Hackensack University Medical Center’s (HackensackUMC) Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology has received a $3,316,475 grant to measure pregnancy complications involving the placenta in real-time, using automated 3-D ultrasound tools.  The grant, from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) and the National Institute of Health’s Human Placenta Project, will be used to enhance HackensackUMC’s innovative collaborative research program with University of Oxford physicians in the United Kingdom for the early detection of at-risk pregnancies.

“I am so proud of our brilliant and committed team and their tireless work to find innovative solutions that ensure the best care for our patients,” said Robert C. Garrett, president and CEO of Hackensack University Health Network. “Our Division of Maternal-Fetal Medicine and Surgery is dedicated to the well-being of the mother and child, and this grant will further enrich the groundbreaking work they are doing to protect the families in our care.”

HackensackUMC plans to use the grant to develop a four-year program that will test ultrasound techniques in the first trimester of pregnancy in an effort to better diagnose an increasingly common, life-threatening complication called Abnormally Invasive Placenta (also known as placenta accreta).  Placenta Accreta occurs in about one out of every 2,500 women.   Kelly Pfeiffer of Mt. Olive, New Jersey was one such woman.  Mrs. Pfeiffer came to HackensackUMC’s Center for Abnormal Placentation (CAP) after she was diagnosed with placenta percreta, the most severe form of placenta accreta in which the placenta fully invades the uterine wall and attaches itself to other pelvic organs like the bladder. 

Earlier this month, Pfeiffer endured a five and a half-hour-long surgery including a complete bladder reconstruction and blood transfusion, and gave birth to her daughter.  Pfeiffer and her daughter are both expected to make a full recovery and are enjoying their time at home with their family.   Pfeiffer donated her placenta to the CAP team to assist their research and help save more women and children suffering from placenta accreta.

“Dr. Al-Khan and his team are incredible.  I couldn’t have asked for a better experience in what was one of the most stressful times of my life,” said Pfeiffer.  “I had been to other doctors after being diagnosed with placenta accreta who did not make me feel better about my situation.  As soon as I met with Dr. Al-Khan and his team, I knew I was in good hands.  I constantly felt reassured that my baby and I were going to be okay.  Even though my daughter was born six weeks early, Dr. Al-Khan and his team took every precautionary measure to make sure she was able to come home with me.  I used to cry because I was under such stress that my baby and I wouldn’t make it.  Now I cry because I am sitting at home holding my daughter and she’s happy and healthy, and I owe that to the amazing doctors and nurses at HackensackUMC.”

Dr. Abdulla Al-Khan, director of the CAP and section chief, Maternal Fetal Medicine and Surgery will lead the program as senior clinical investigator, along with Dr. Stacy Zamudio, Dr. Jesus Alvarez-Perez, Dr. Manuel Alvarez (co-investigator) and Dr. Nicholas Illsley. Dr. Ciaran Mannion and Dr. Christopher Koenig in the Department of Pathology are also collaborators in this effort.

“It is so important to gain a better understanding of maternal health and life-threatening complications like placenta accreta,” said Dr. Al-Khan.  “This grant will allow us to further expand our program and invest more deeply in innovative practices we have established so that we can decrease maternal complications and in turn greatly improve outcomes for mothers and babies.  I would especially like to thank Dr. Stacy Zamudio at HackensackUMC and Dr. Sally Collins at the University of Oxford for their tireless work on this project.  Without them, this would not have been possible.”

There has been a significant increase in cesarean deliveries in recent years, which disrupts the integrity of the uterus and contributes to issues with placental formation in future pregnancies.  Mothers who have undergone cesarean sections are at greater risk for developing placenta accreta (about one in every 500 women), which is one of the leading causes of maternal death in the United States.  There are three stages of placenta accreta:

  • Placenta accreta occurs when less than 50 percent of the placenta invades the uterine wall
  • Placenta increta is when more than 50 percent of the placenta invades the uterine wall
  • Place percreta is when the placenta fully invades the uterine wall and attaches itself to other pelvic organs

If the placenta invades more than 50 percent of the uterine wall, it triggers a process known as neovascularization or an excessive formation of blood vessels around the affected area.  These blood vessels can cause life-threatening hemorrhaging during delivery, threatening both the lives of the mother and baby.

HackensackUMC was the first hospital in the nation to identify the neovascularization process thanks to the CAP, led by Dr. Al-Khan.  Dr. Al-Khan has grown CAP over the last five years into an internationally-recognized program that has developed strategies to better diagnose placenta accreta, decreased surgical ICU admissions, decreased the number of blood transfusions, all of which have led to more positive maternal outcomes. CAP provides much-needed comprehensive services to women who currently have few alternatives for expert care. This groundbreaking program has been developed and designed to serve as a template for regional, national and international institutions.

HackensackUMC has the largest volume of deliveries as a single institution in the tristate area, with more than 6,300 births in 2011 alone. The hospital has become an active referral center for mothers with special needs.

About Hackensack University Medical Center

HackensackUMC, a nonprofit teaching and research hospital located in Bergen County, NJ, is the largest provider of inpatient and outpatient services in the state. Founded in 1888 as the county’s first hospital, it is the flagship hospital of Hackensack University Health Network, one of the largest health networks in the state comprised of 1,717 beds, more than 10,000 employees and 3,300 credentialed physicians. HackensackUMC was listed as the number one hospital in New Jersey in U.S. News & World Report’s 2015-16 Best Hospital rankings - maintaining its place atop the NJ rankings since the rating system was introduced. HackensackUMC is one of Healthgrades America's 50 Best Hospitals™ for nine years in a row, and received the Healthgrades Distinguished Hospital Award for Clinical Excellence™ 13 years in a row. The medical center has also been named a Leapfrog Top Hospital, is one of the top 25 green hospitals in the country according to Practice Greenhealth, and received 23 Gold Seals of Approval™ by the Joint Commission – more than any other hospital in the country. It was the first hospital in New Jersey and second in the nation to become a Magnet® recognized hospital for nursing excellence; receiving its fifth consecutive designation in 2014. HackensackUMC has created an entire campus of award-winning care, including: the John Theurer Cancer Center; the Heart & Vascular Hospital; and the Sarkis and Siran Gabrellian Women’s and Children’s Pavilion, which houses the Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital and Donna A. Sanzari Women’s Hospital, which was designed with The Deirdre Imus Environmental Health Center and listed on the Green Guide’s list of Top 10 Green Hospitals in the U.S. HackensackUMC is the Hometown Hospital of the New York Giants and the New York Red Bulls and is the Official Medical Services Provider to The Barclays PGA Golf Tournament. It remains committed to its community through fundraising and community events. To learn more, visit: www.HackensackUMC.org.  





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