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How to survive the intensive care unit

25 May 2020

Lise Beumeler (27), originally from the southern province of Limburg, is a PhD student at the UG/Campus Fryslân. She researches the health progression of patients after being admitted to intensive care. Some patients recover better than others but the reason behind this is as yet unknown.

This article appeared in Connect No. 2 2019

Beumeler studied Biomedical Sciences in Groningen, where she also obtained her Research Master’s degree. This was a practice-oriented degree programme that involved a lot of laboratory work, which she found really interesting – but she was looking for something more. Something even more practical and clinically applicable, that would enable her to help people in a concrete way and in a relatively short time span. Two research projects guided her in the direction of her current PhD research topic.

“I have participated in two research projects, one in Assen looking at lifestyle intervention for people who have experienced cancer, and one at GGZ Drenthe (the province’s mental healthcare organization) looking at sleep medication for and sleep disorders in patients who were involuntarily admitted to a mental healthcare institution. There was very direct patient contact and the healthcare workers assessed each patient as a whole. To me, that gave it an extra dimension, something you don’t see in the lab. It was a real challenge to find my way from the pillars of scientific research to daily practice. When four PhD positions opened up at Campus Fryslân, I thought: yes, this is it! I immediately applied and was offered a position,” says Lise Beumeler, sitting on a sofa in the faculty building.

Recovery after leaving intensive care

“My research is aimed at preventing deterioration in health after having been admitted to the IC. No less than 48% of IC patients suffer from deteriorating health, which is not surprising considering that they almost died. But it is unclear why one patient recovers better than another. Until recently, we only focused on surviving – but not on how someone survives in IC.

Together with internist-intensivist Christiaan Boerma of the Medical Centre Leeuwarden (MCL) and Professor Gerjan Navis of the University Medical Center Groningen (UMCG), Beumeler has set up a research study that will map the recovery of patients and look at ways to improve quality of life after admission into an IC. “For this study, we will conduct a few measurements, including an ultrasound of the thigh muscle and asking the patient to squeeze a small device. This will tell us something about the patient’s muscle strength. After that, we will visit the patients again, first at the intensive care unit and then at three, six and twelve months after being released. We will also ask them to fill in a set of questionnaires. This way, we can see what problems the patients run into and how we can offer support with a personalized after-care programme.”

Distress, attention and care

“The IC is an impressive place,” ponders Lise Beumeler. “People are unconscious and are surrounded by all kinds of machines. Some patients don’t make it and they pass away. This is a very distressful process. At the same time, I have seen that the IC is a warm and safe environment. That may sound contradictory but so much attention and care is given to both the patient and those involved. People allow me to get in contact with them at such a vulnerable time in their lives. I find it quite special that I get to be a part of that.”

Albeit of a completely different nature, Beumeler also feels like she receives attention and care from the people in her PhD programme and on campus. “At Campus Fryslân, I can speak my mind. I can exchange experiences about the practical side of conducting research with other PhD students and that is also important to me. People sometimes say that doing a PhD can be quite lonely – and that prospect scared me a little – but, in my experience, it’s not lonely at all. The people that I work with are friendly and we have a small-scale campus, which is great.”

Recovery of IC patients on the map

At what stage is her research currently? “I will be monitoring patients and collecting data for one more year. After that, the goal is to set up an ‘intervention’, an after-care programme for people who have just been released from IC, aimed at improving their quality of life. Putting the recovery of IC patients on the map, that’s what I hope to have achieved in two-and-a-half-years’ time.”

Last modified:25 May 2020 12.38 p.m.
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