Research award for Rotorua sonographer


Cardiac sonographer Stacey Neilson has won an award for her research, which is now helping cancer patients.
A white woman in black clinical physiology uniform stands outside the Rotorua Hospital main entrance. she is wearing glasses and smiling.

Cardiac sonographer Stacey Neilson

When cardiac sonographer Stacey Neilson swapped the North Shore for Rotorua she realised she was now seeing more cancer patients for scans.

She noticed that there seemed to be more cardiac toxicity being observed in Māori patients than non-Māori and began to wonder why.

At the weekend Stacey was presented with the Cardiac Society of Australia and New Zealand Allied Health Investigator Award for her research “Incidents of cancer therapy related cardiac dysfunction in Māori compared to non-Māori”.

“I couldn’t let that question lie, it needed to be answered,” she said.

Her research took two-and-a-half years and involved ethics committee approval within Lakes and Bay of Plenty, as well as support from Māori Health teams.

She received funding from the Lakes Allied Health Trust and a scholarship from the Cardiac Society.

While what she found didn’t reach statistical significance it did show there was a trend towards more Māori experiencing cardiac toxicity from cancer treatments.

“There were some important limitations around using echocardiograms. You’ve got to get good echo views and 43 percent of patients in this study were obese. That means our tools are less accurate.

“We need more and longer-term research as cancer survival has improved, but we need to protect our patients from a future cardiac event. Research has shown breast cancer survivors are at higher risk of a cardiac event.

“There’s still some important findings and things we will change locally for better outcomes for our patients.

“We’ve developed a new referral that has cardiac risk information in it. The oncologists are open to considering the use of blood tests to look for cardiac biomarkers to help assess for cardiotoxicity.

 “This research has led to a lot more open communication between oncologists and cardiologists about an individualised approach and we’re already helping patients.”

Stacey won $3500 to be spent on attending a future Cardiac Society conference in either Australia or New Zealand.

 “I’m pretty proud of this and it’s whetted my appetite for more research. It’s also shown the value that cardiac sonographers offer to the cardiology community.

“I received a lot of really positive feedback from people coming up to me, particularly from those with an inequity focus.

“I’ve presented at the conference before but there’s more on the line when it’s your own research. I felt pretty nervous but it was really good to share the outcomes.”

Director of Allied Health at Lakes, Joe Monkhouse, said he was proud of Stacey’s research and the impact it was already having for patients.

“There’s no higher recognition than from by your peers,” he said.

“We’re all very proud of Stacey and what she has achieved.”