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Putting 'NU' Connections to Work

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Kellogg Graduate School of Management
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Heading to Havana

Ahead of Her Time
Looking Out for Kids
Wordsmith Unbound

Looking Out for Kids
Pediatrician Richard Schieber (WCAS74, FSM76) left his medical practice to make the world a safer place for children.

As the director of the pediatric intensive care unit at Egleston Children’s Hospital in Atlanta, Richard Schieber (WCAS74, FSM76) was becoming frustrated. On the ward Schieber was treating hundreds of patients who sustained severe injuries, many of which could have been prevented with basic safety precautions.

There was the case of a preschooler who, after weeks of recovering from life-threatening pneumonia requiring a ventilator, was killed just days after discharge in a car crash because his car seat had not been installed. Or the similar tragedy of a teen-age girl who had been in intensive care for months with cancer. She died from massive head injuries sustained in an auto collision only weeks after her cancer went into remission.

"I was getting more and more discouraged with the number of kids who were coming in with injuries," Schieber explains. "I wanted to work upstream, so to speak, to prevent as much of it as possible."

While Schieber had worked to enforce child safety before, he remained committed to the hospital. But after he had seen the aftermath of enough preventable accidents, he decided to leave his life of medicine to pursue prevention. "I swallowed real hard, took a pay cut and went back to school," he says with a chuckle.

For three years Schieber attended night classes to earn a master’s degree in public health, studying biostatistics, research methods and epidemiology.

In 1992, while still earning his degree, he went to work as a childhood injury epidemiologist for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, coincidentally based in Atlanta. "It turned out that one of the finest institutions of injury prevention was right up the street," Schieber says.

Since joining the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, he has conducted extensive research on how effective safety equipment, such as helmets and knee and elbow pads, really is.

"Our studies have produced huge numbers with striking results," Schieber says with satisfaction. "As a result of these findings I believe more people are actually paying attention to safety gear."

His first major study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1996, examined the value of protective equipment for inline skating — commonly known as rollerblading after the popular brand of skates — which causes 100,000 injuries each year. Schieber found that the likelihood of wrist and elbow injuries was 10 times higher for unprotected skaters than for those who wore wrist and elbow guards.

Schieber has also studied the effectiveness of helmet laws and discovered that twice as many kids donned the headgear if a law required them. That prompted some state governments to legally require bike helmets, which prevent brain damage in seven out of eight cases of potential head injury.

Yet Schieber doesn’t just see child safety concerns as confined to outdoor leisure activities. When discussing the topic, he recommends everything from wearing seat belts to childproofing the house. "My own kids think of me as Captain Safety," he jokes.

Schieber is humble about his discoveries, but he’s optimistic about their impact on child safety.

"My office has a window. There’s a road across the street, and every once in a while I see bikers and rollerbladers pass by," Schieber reflects. "When I see them riding in a safer manner, I hope that I may have contributed to that in some small way. That thought makes me feel very good."

— Rebecca Zeifman (J04)