Angela Rupp and Elaine Whaley

Collaborating to connect dots and save lives 

Angela Rupp, MT, MS, CIC, FAPIC 
Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago
Chicago, IL

Elaine Whaley, MSN, RN, CIC, CPHQ
Texas Children’s Hospital
Houston, TX 

In February 2016, Elaine Whaley’s Texas-based pediatric hospital identified a cluster of Burkholderia cepacia (B. cepacia) among their pediatric non-cystic fibrosis (CF) patients. Just a few weeks later, Angela Rupp’s Chicago-based pediatric facility also identified a B. cepacia cluster. Both professionals sent B. cepacia isolates to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation Research Laboratory (the national repository for these isolates) for verification and genotyping, and the laboratory responded with two valuable pieces of information: the isolate was not the same B. cepacia organism previously seen in either hospital’s patients, and there was another hospital in the country battling the same organism. Due to confidentiality, however, the Foundation could not disclose facility names.

Fortunately, Whaley and Rupp had connected years before through the Children’s Hospital Association (CHA) infection prevention directors’ forum, and worked together during the Ebola crisis. When Whaley learned that the second B. cepacia cluster was in Chicago, she contacted Rupp to determine if – by chance – it was her facility. The two professionals then combined their data, analysis and research efforts. “Knowing each other let us focus our efforts much more quickly,” Rupp said. They also continued leveraging their professional relationships, alerting CHA infection prevention listserv colleagues to the outbreak and subsequently identifying additional B. cepacia clusters. 

By comparing same or similar supplies and medications used at their facilities, along with some “pretty slick” analysis, Whaley and Rupp quickly and efficiently identified a common, contaminated product. “We made the internal decision to stop using this medication immediately,” said Rupp. Whaley and Rupp’s findings subsequently resulted in an FDA recall, preventing countless cases of infection. 

 “I can’t stress enough the importance of professional relationships,” Whaley said. “It’s much easier to pick up the phone and ask a colleague about an outbreak when you’ve developed these relationships over time.”