DENVER - Not only did Gaby Zane's science project get her an A in fifth grade, her work ended up as the focus of a recently published report in a medical journal.
That's an accomplishment that many doctors never achieve.
"It's pretty cool I got to do something like that at such a young age," Gaby said.
The project came about when Gaby was looking for a way to help out other kids who go into the hospital.
"Kids probably get stressed that they're going to have to go through an operation," Gaby said. "Stuffed animals really help with staying calm, but they can carry lots of bacteria into the operating room."
Her mother, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon, first mentioned the dilemma to her daughter.
She also pointed out that there are no concrete cases of a stuffed animal causing a surgical site infection, that the rule was all about prevention.
"We have a 'Project Zero Project' at Children's Hospital Colorado where we are trying to minimize SSIs," Dr. Siobhan Murphy-Zane said. "The push is on to decrease the bacterial load for the operating room ... not just people scrubbing in or wearing booties on their feet. We're trying to minimize traffic coming in and out of the OR and minimize materials coming into the room."
Gaby thought about her favorite stuffed cat, Sheena. Gaby knew she would want Sheena with her if she had to have an operation. She figured there had to be a simple solution.
"I thought 'why not just wash them,'" Gaby said. "We did a study on how we could decrease the bacteria, and it worked. You just have to throw them in the washer and drier."
Gaby ordered the petri dishes and the incubator and set up shop in her Denver basement.
She rubbed a sterile swab over each of her stuffed animals as well as those from her two brothers rooms. She cultured the samplings.
"They had a lot of bacteria," Gaby said. "When we washed them, they had a 94 percent decrease in bacteria."
Dr. Murphy-Zane shared the findings of her experiment with a colleague at Vanderbilt University.
"His lab was so thrilled and sent her a really nice note and jokingly said 'they had been scooped by a fifth grader,'" Murphy-Zane said.
Dr. Jonathan Schoenecker, M.D., Ph.D. oversaw a similar study in his Vanderbilt lab and pooled those results with Gaby's findings.
"The next thing we knew, the manuscript was written and had been accepted to the Journal of Pediatric Orthopaedics," Dr. Murphy-Zane said.
The article is called "Stuffed Animals in the Operating Room: A Reservoir of Bacteria with a Simple Solution:" http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25851680
"You just have to throw them in the washer [hot water] and dryer and that will get them pretty clean," Gaby said. "Put them in a sealed plastic bag before you get to the operating room to make sure they stay sterile, and you'll be ok."
Both Murphy-Zane and her husband, Dr. Richard Zane have had their work published in medical journals. Dr. Zane is a professor & Chair of Emergency Medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.
"Sometimes you'll do projects that never get out of the manuscript stage and never get into the publican stage, so it's kind of funny that this is the project - out of all the ones I did last year - that got published first," Dr. Murphy-Zane said. "It's been a good grin on our faces that this is the one that got published."
Believe it or not, 12-year-old Gaby has no desire to follow in her parents footsteps and become a doctor. Gaby has her sets sights on being a writer or journalist. She is already fine-tuning the skills for those professions, especially with her inquisitive mind and investigative sense.
This now-seventh grader at Kent Denver School has also achieved something journalists are always looking for: the big scoop.
(© 2015 KUSA)