Helping kids avoid and overcome infections after transplants

Physicians at Norton Children’s Hospital perform heart, kidney and bone marrow transplants. Infectious diseases specialist Victoria A. Statler, M.D., gives these children and their families safer-living strategies to navigate their changed world.

Victoria A. Statler, M.D., works hard to educate children undergoing transplants on ways to avoid potentially dangerous infections. She also treats them when they do get sick.

Children receiving transplanted organs or bone marrow take medicines to help their bodies accept the transplant. The drugs work by suppressing the immune system, so transplant recipients are at greater risk for infection.

“I do a lot of education upfront so children and their families know what to expect and how their lives may or may not change after transplant,” said Dr. Statler, an infectious diseases specialist with Norton Children’s Infectious Diseases, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine.

Physicians at Norton Children’s Hospital perform heart, kidney and bone marrow transplants. Dr. Statler gives these children and their families safer-living strategies to navigate their changed world.

For example, these children need additional vaccines to protect them, and some pets pose more of an infection risk than others, according to Dr. Statler.

Dr. Statler is director of the Norton Children’s Hospital pediatric transplant infectious diseases service, which she developed in 2015. She also participates in the Norton Children’s Heart Institute Transplant Clinic at the Novak Center for Children’s Health. The multidisciplinary clinic provides a team-based approach to post-transplant care for patients of Norton Children’s Heart Institute, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine. The clinic brings multiple medical specialties together so kids can see their doctors at one location.

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Personal experience as a kid in the hospital

A Louisville native, Dr. Statler became interested in medicine as a child. She had a number of stays at Norton Children’s Hospital with a chronic medical condition. She also loved science and math. Having been sick as a child makes her able to relate to what her young patients are going through, according to Dr. Statler.

“I always wanted to give back and help children and their families the way my physicians and health care team helped me. I also think I have a unique perspective because of my own experiences,” Dr. Statler said.

Dr. Statler became interested in infectious disease as a specialty when she was a senior in college. While she was hospitalized with an autoimmune disorder, an infectious diseases doctor suggested she consider specializing in infectious disease when she got to medical school. Dr. Statler followed his advice.

During her first year at the University of Louisville School of Medicine, Dr. Statler did a monthlong rotation with the pediatric infectious diseases team at Norton Children’s Hospital.

“I loved how an infectious disease physician was like a detective, sorting out details to put together the bigger picture, not focusing on just one organ system, and seeing many different patients throughout the hospital,” Dr. Statler said. “The medicine, the patients and the people who practice infectious diseases — it was all a perfect fit for me.”

After completing her medical training in pediatrics at the University of Louisville and a pediatric infectious diseases fellowship, Dr. Statler joined the University of Louisville faculty. She is currently an associate professor.

In addition to her work with children undergoing transplants, Dr. Statler spends part of her time treating children with infectious diseases who are not part of the transplant program.

“With some patients, we help figure out the cause of the infection; when the cause of an infection is known, we’re called in to help determine the best way to treat them,” Dr. Statler said.

When she’s not at the hospital, Dr. Statler likes spending time with her husband and two young children. She also likes reading, traveling, rooting for UofL sports teams and listening to live music.

At Norton Children’s, Dr. Statler appreciates the upbeat outlook of the children she sees.

“I love the resiliency and optimism of children,” she said. “I see very sick children, but they are determined to get well so they can get back to playing and enjoying time with their friends and family. I love being part of the team at Norton Children’s that helps them do that.”