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UF Health pulmonologist to chair task force on deadly blood clots

Emily and her parents, Doug and Janet Adkins, in 2021. (Photo courtesy of Adkins family.)

Emily and her parents, Doug and Janet Adkins, in 2021. (Photo courtesy of Adkins family.)

A University of Florida Health pulmonologist has been appointed chair of a new state task force to study blood clots and make policy recommendations to protect Floridians against this often-elusive risk.

Ali Ataya, M.D., an associate professor in the UF College of Medicine’s division of pulmonary, critical care and sleep medicine, and director of the Pulmonary Hypertension Center was appointed by Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo in January after state lawmakers adopted the Emily Adkins Prevention Act last year.

Emily Adkins, a 23-year-old resident of Fernandina Beach north of Jacksonville, died suddenly on Oct. 21, 2022, from a pulmonary embolism — a clot blocking blood flow in an artery of the lung. She recently had undergone gallbladder surgery and then a broken ankle.

The Adkins family said the fracture and earlier surgery, with other factors, put Emily at higher risk of a clot. Doctors and patients, they said, need to be more aware of the dangers.

“It’s a great privilege to be asked to chair this task force,” Ataya said. “We hope that our work can prevent another family from having to go through the tragic loss of a loved one. This is an opportunity to create impactful change.”

The task force members will make recommendations about collecting and tracking information on the prevalence and impacts of blood clots as well as the standard of care and emerging treatments.

“Tracking the incidence and prevalence of blood clots and pulmonary emboli can help the medical community identify certain risk factors,” Ataya said. “This will allow the health care community to improve screening, identify at-risk patients, and allow for early intervention and monitoring.”

If implemented, Florida would be one of the first states in the nation to adopt blood clot and pulmonary embolism surveillance.

“Nobody anywhere else in the country is collecting that data,” said Doug Adkins, who, with his wife Janet, created Emily’s Promise, a nonprofit foundation to raise awareness about blood clots and how people can better understand their risk.

Ataya and the task force are also asked to consider a plan to raise awareness of blood clot risk factors among physicians and the public.

“We want to educate the public to advocate for themselves,” he said.

Risk factors for a blood clot include a family history of blood clots, obesity, pregnancy, smoking, certain surgeries and cancers, diabetes and some hormonal therapies. A foot immobile in a cast also raises the risk.

“Days after the cast was removed, she was dead,” Doug Adkins said. “The task force is charged with addressing the standard of care for blood clots in Florida. That’s a very big deal. Florida is one of the largest states in the country. What happens here will influence the rest of the country.”

The task force will report back to state lawmakers by Jan. 4, which would have been Emily’s 26th birthday.

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