Working with children who suffered from burns was the most meaningful experience of Cailin Deal’s life. When she was a senior at the University of Connecticut, when she could have graduated a semester early and taken it easy, she instead chose to intern at the Red Cross Children’s Hospital (RCCH) in Cape Town, South Africa, where she researched ventilated-associated pneumonia (VAP) in burn victims.
VAP occurs when intubated patients acquire infections from the ventilator itself. Because of hazardous and crowded conditions in the crowded slums on the outskirts of major South African cities, many children suffer burns caused by hot water, shack fires started by candles used to see at night, electrical wires, open fires and other means. Deal conducted case research, often through interviews with parents, to figure out why some children develop VAP and some do not. Although they did not have time to complete a thorough study, they did find a significant correlation of VAP with fire burns, most likely due to smoke inhalation. “This research was emotionally taxing since many of the children with VAP died,” she says. “Some I had personally seen struggle to live, while others seemed to improve only to succumb to an opportunistic pathogen I’d never thought of as dangerous.”
On weekends, Deal spent her time volunteering, at a rape crisis center, a battered women’s shelter, a mobile clinic, and especially at the Khayelitsha Youth Support Program, which taught children life skills and helped keep them out of gangs and off drugs. Her experience in South Africa was life-changing. She knew that she wanted to spend her life channeling her love for science, particularly biology and virology, into promoting global health.
Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Ragon Institute of MGH, MIT and Harvard