David Perritano
Senior Makayla Mackey is all heart.

She gets it from her sister, Madison ’22, and her mother, Denyse. She most definitely gets it from her late father, Warren.

Warren Mackey passed away in 2021 after battling heart disease. Not only has his family endeavored to keep his spirit alive with the establishment of the Warren & Denyse Mackey Foundation (more on that later), but Makayla’s taking things a step forward. She has become an agent of change, championing advancements in health care so other families can spend more time with their loved ones.

“I always knew I wanted to be a doctor,” Makayla says.” “My mom was diagnosed with cancer when I was a freshman, and my dad got sick when I was at a very young age. Doctors weren’t able to fix my parents, so I wanted to be able to fix others. With my research I’m hoping to make the world a better place and help prolong people’s lives.

The research zeroes in on an emerging issue within the medical community: how iron deficiency and anemia can drastically impair the quality of life in heart failure patients.

“Many hospitals don’t have protocols,” Makayla says.” There is a lack of awareness on how to treat congestive heart failure patients with iron deficiency. It’s fairly new in terms of severity when it comes to the differences of functional capacity in these patients.”

Makayla has been researching the project for three years, with the assistance of Holy Names instructor Andrew Licari. The research was done primarily at Albany Medical Center under the supervision of Dr. Dmitri Belov. Dr. Greg Lewis of Massachusetts General Hospital was conducting a similar analysis, and each shared their results to compare statistics.

She says what they found was astonishing.

Makayla’s (combined) study* revealed only 21% of congestive heart failure patients were tested for iron deficiency when admitted to the hospital. 25% received iron replacement when certain requirements were met.

Makayla says all parties found those numbers to be alarmingly low and decided something needed to change. So, she met with Albany Med’s head of Cardiology, Apheresis (blood withdrawal), and cardiac nursing to discuss how to remedy the issue.

The solution: all patients who meet the requirements of absolute iron deficiency upon admission** to receive Ferric Carboxymaltose (an injection used to treat iron-deficiency anemia) instead of the more typically used Iron Sucrose which is administered via IV. The new protocol standards were adopted by Albany Medical Center in December 2022.

In recognition of her achievement, earlier this year Makayla received the Regeneron George Yancopoulus Award for demonstrating the most creativity in improving or identifying health issues at the Greater Capital Region Science and Engineering Fair.

About the honor, Makayla says it felt surreal. “I felt blessed and humbled, but it was also bittersweet because I had been researching this so long because of my father.”

As for what the future holds, Makayla, who plans to attend Wake Forest in the fall, says this project has opened many doors for her. “I was fortunate to have the opportunity to meet with department chairs of biology and health/exercise science who have offered major opportunities to continue my research as an undergraduate, which sets me up on my path for med school.”

She thanks Mr. Licari, Dr. Belov, and her parents for always believing in her and setting her up for success.

If you’d like to contribute to the Warren and Denyse Mackey Foundation, which is presented each year to a deserving black student who demonstrates academic excellence, resilience, and leadership skills, you can do so by visiting our website.

*The study took patients who were admitted to Albany Medical Center between May 2019-2021 with a primary diagnosis of heart failure exacerbation and filtered out which patients were tested for iron deficiency. The next step was to determine if the patients met iron deficiency requirements if they then received IV iron replacement therapy.

**These patients are tested for iron deficiency if they meet certain requirements when admitted to Albany Medical Center. They do not receive iron replacement therapy if they do not qualify and/or are not tested.