A leading national voice in the fight against pediatric infections when Louisville needs it

Touched by the story of a pioneering infant heart transplant, a young medical writer shifted gears to become a physician.

When she graduated from college, Kristina A. Bryant, M.D., didn’t plan on becoming a doctor. She’d majored in French and political science. Her first job out of school was working as a medical writer for the University of Louisville.

Her career goals changed dramatically when she was assigned to help CNN do a series about an infant heart transplant patient in Louisville. Then known publicly as “Baby Calvin,” Robbie Cardin became the first infant to get a heart transplant in Kentucky, and Norton Children’s Hospital was just the second site in the U.S. to complete the complex operation.

“I was inspired by Robbie Cardin and his family and the transplant program,” Dr. Bryant said.

At the end of her first day on the story, she decided she didn’t want to write about medicine. She wanted to do medicine.

The only science Dr. Bryant had taken in college was astronomy, so she went back to school to complete all the science requirements for medical school.

Dr. Bryant’s career has come full circle. She’s now a pediatric infectious diseases specialist with Norton Children’s Infectious Diseases, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine. Dr. Bryant treats children like Robbie who undergo organ or bone marrow transplants and have compromised immune systems, making them more vulnerable to infection.

A leader in the COVID-19 pediatric response

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Bryant has been working with a multidisciplinary team of physicians — pediatric cardiologists, rheumatologists, infectious diseases specialists, critical care specialists, pediatricians and others — to stay on top of information about the coronavirus.

They share the information with health care providers at Norton Healthcare and Norton Children’s as well as with physicians and others in Louisville and across the state.

Dr. Bryant also works with doctors and nurses at Norton Children’s Hospital and Norton Children’s Medical Group, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine, to develop the best treatment and testing protocols for COVID-19.

“Every day has brought new challenges,” Dr. Bryant said. “This is a virus we’ve only known about for less than a year, and what we know today may not be what we know next week or next month.”

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Preventing and fighting infections

Dr. Bryant also treats previously healthy children admitted to the hospital with serious infections, including meningitis or pneumonia. Sometimes, she and her colleagues are asked to see patients with fever or other symptoms that suggest an infection, but don’t have an obvious cause. Before treatment can begin, an infectious diseases specialist needs to figure out what made the child sick in the first place.

“My clinical work is very much like that of a detective,” Dr. Bryant said. “Who has the child been around? Where have they traveled? Have they had contact with animals? Where have they eaten? All of these can pose a risk for infection. The most important test we have is talking to patients and their parents. Often the history gives us the most important clue what the issue might be.”

In addition, Dr. Bryant helps keep hospitalized children free of infections from intravenous lines, catheters and other medical devices. Her research efforts include prevention of hospital infections, and she serves on a national committee advising the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on infection prevention.

Dr. Bryant also has done vaccine research. She was the local lead investigator on one of the earliest clinical trials for Prevnar 13, a vaccine that prevents serious bacterial infections. According to Dr. Bryant, the research would not have been possible without the help of local families.

“By participating, a number of local families showed the vaccine was safe and effective,” she said.

A national leader in the fight against infection

A Louisville native, Dr. Bryant attended the University of Louisville for college and medical school. She also did her medical training and a pediatric infectious diseases fellowship at the University of Louisville.

Now, Dr. Bryant is a professor of pediatrics in the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at the University of Louisville School of Medicine. Between 2008 and 2019, she directed the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Fellowship Program at UofL.

In addition, Dr. Bryant is president of the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society (PIDS), the world’s largest organization of professionals dedicated to the treatment, control, and eradication of infectious diseases affecting children.

“The vision of PIDS is ‘Freedom from infections for all children through excellent clinical care, research, education and advocacy.’ That’s also what I also strive for in my daily work,” Dr. Bryant said. “I don’t want any child to develop an infection that we could have prevented with a vaccine. I don’t want any child to catch an infection because of the care they receive in the hospital.”