Presenting her final research project before graduating the Academy of Holy Names, at first glance, Makayla Mackey looks like the quintessential brilliant high school senior.

But as her teacher Andrew Licari will tell you, she's doing so much more than acing his science class.

"It's incredible to really see a high school student create something that is going to help people," said Licari.

What You Need To Know

  • High school senior Makayla Mackey has been working on heart disease research

  • She partnered with Dr. Dmitri Belov at Albany Med

  • Their findings have led to procedural changes at the hospital

For the last two and a half years, Mackey has spent countless hours at Albany Medical Center's cardiology department.

"Currently, about 6.5 million Americans actually suffer from heart failure, and about 50% of these Americans also suffer from iron deficiency, which makes their heart failure symptoms worsened," said Mackey. "So they have a worsened functional capacity and just quality of life in general."

Mackey’s father Warren battled heart disease, passing away in February 2021.

"He was a man of heart," said Mackey. "He was just so full of life."

She's been researching heart failure patients and iron deficiency with Dr. Dmitri Belov, someone who can attest to the greatness of Mackey’s dad — Belov is the doctor who treated him.

Just two months after her dad died, Mackey reached out to Belov to collaborate.

"I was stunned when she called me," said Belov. "I really think it's incredible, just sincere desire to the cause to help other people with heart failure and how she transformed her grief into helping other people."

Their study revealed only 21% of congestive heart failure patients were tested for iron deficiency when admitted to the hospital. Further, 25% received iron replacement when certain requirements were met.

"It's been just such a blessing to be able to work with someone who worked with my father, and Dr. Belov has just such a drive to help patients," said Mackey. "He's really, like, caring and totally 100% all in. So I think that's kind of been one of the reasons why he honestly just inspires me every single day to be a doctor like him."

Their findings resulted in new protocol adopted by Albany Medical Center in December 2022. Now, all patients who meet the requirements receive an injection used to treat iron-deficiency anemia.

"It's a nationwide problem," said Belov. "Because it's so recent, and we actually are ahead of the curve trying to find some ways how to help people with iron deficiency and heart failure."

Belov believes it could change the guidelines in hospitals across the country.

Mackey is big on keeping motivation in clear view: a logo on her phone case of Wake Forest University, where she'll continue her path to becoming a cardiologist; science stickers on her laptop gifted from Licari; and her grandparents’ wedding rings on a chain she inherited from her dad.

"I wear it every single day because he wore it every single day, and it sits right by my heart," said Mackey.

Mackey says for her, science is all about leading with her heart.

"It's kind of just like, I want to be able to grow up and be able to fix other people's parents, because not many people were able to fix my own," said Mackey. "So it's kind of my drive just to be able to help other people and fix other people and prolong their lives."