Table of ContentsClose
The connections Kimberly Baker-El Abiad (00MD, 07F, 08F) formed at the University of Iowa as an undergraduate and medical student, fellow, and physician have kept her in Iowa for most of her professional career.
When Baker-El Abiad first arrived on campus from Texas, she didn't plan to start her career, meet her future husband, or raise a family in the Midwest.
Today, Baker-El Abiad, a clinical assistant professor of internal medicine–pulmonary, critical care, and occupational medicine in the Carver College of Medicine, is the only physician in Iowa performing bronchoscopic lung volume reduction using the Zephyr endobronchial valve. The Zephyr valve is the first device approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat patients with air trapping and severe emphysema to achieve lung volume reduction in a minimally invasive way.
Baker-El Abiad credits her education, training, and guidance from several mentors for her career success. She says opportunities to conduct bronchoscopic interventions and work alongside experts in the field who encouraged her to pursue the specialty are why she ultimately stayed in Iowa.
"Iowa has treated me well," she says. "The support I have around me helps me to be the best I can be at my job. I couldn't ask for a better environment in which to care for my patients. I have had the opportunity to play a role in developing new programs for our patients ranging from bronchoscopic lung volume reduction to lung cancer screening.”
Finding her niche
Baker-El Abiad was initially drawn to a pulmonary critical care fellowship due to her interest in caring for critically ill patients. However, during her first bronchoscopy rotation she worked with Geoffrey McLennan, MD, who became a key mentor in her career. He encouraged her to develop her bronchoscopy skills and sparked her interest in advanced bronchoscopy and caring for patients who may benefit from bronchoscopic interventions. It was a turning point in her career.
Working with McLennan, Baker-El Abiad was introduced to the mechanics of bronchoscopy which involves maneuvering a scope through the airways for inspection and performing a variety of different procedures for obtaining biopsies or fluid samples.
As her confidence and skills grew, Baker-El Abiad took on more complex procedures and eventually added a fourth year to her fellowship training to delve into even more complex interventions that may be required due to complications related to cancer, such a tumor debulking and airway stent placement. Additionally, benign problems such as airway stenosis may require an intervention like balloon dilation to help patients improve their ability to breathe.
"During my training with Dr. McLennan at UI Hospitals & Clinics, I had the opportunity to participate in a variety of multicenter trials investigating the use of bronchoscopy in benign, chronic lung diseases like emphysema and asthma,” she says. “This was the start of interventional pulmonology playing a role in the management in these diseases.”
One of those trials was an early trial using the Zephyr valve.
In 2018 the FDA approved the Zephyr Valve for bronchoscopic lung volume reduction. Baker-El Abiad now uses the valve procedure to help eligible patients with severe emphysema who may otherwise have limited options which carry significant risk or no additional treatment options.
With the Zephyr valve, patients can potentially experience improvement in their breathing with a one-time procedure that requires no incisions.
During the procedure, small, one-way valves are placed in the airways leading to the most diseased lobe of the lung to allow air out but not allow air back in. This reduces hyperinflation and air trapping and allows for volume reduction in that lobe. In turn, healthier parts of the lung can function more efficiently.
With the Zephyr valve, patients can potentially experience improvement in their breathing with a one-time procedure that requires no incisions. During the procedure, small, one-way valves are placed in the airways leading to the most diseased lobe of the lung to allow air out but not allow air back in. This reduces hyperinflation and air trapping and allows for volume reduction in that lobe. In turn, healthier parts of the lung can function more efficiently.
"To see something that I was a part of as a fellow come to fruition so many years later, and to then be able to offer it to our patients in a clinical setting, is very exciting and rewarding," Baker El-Abiad says. “I am fortunate to be part of a great team of people who all work to provide our patients with the best care and opportunities.”
Today, Baker-El Abiad stays busy and focused with her patients in the Pulmonary Clinic, the clinical cancer center, and the bronchoscopy lab. She also continues to work on growing the endobronchial valve and lung cancer screening programs.
"I am grateful for so much of what the UI offered me and still offers me," she says. "But most importantly, I am grateful to be able to help Iowans at key moments in their lives, moments that have a lasting impact on them and their loved ones."