Why did you choose a career in medicine?
I come from a family of physicians. Becoming a physician was something I thought about since being a child. There is nothing I’d rather do than be a physician; I love every aspect of it.
What drew you to specialize in pediatric cardiac surgery?
There are lots of different types of healing arts. Surgery is one where you can see an instantaneous difference.
I wanted to challenge myself as much as possible, and among the surgical specialties, infant congenital heart surgery is considered the most technically complex.
This isn’t like any other field; the stakes are completely different. The impact we can make is for a lifetime. It’s the promise of a fruitful life.
How has becoming a parent changed your outlook at work?
Before, I was imagining what a parent would feel like— I did this for a long time before becoming a dad. Now I have two boys under 3 … being a parent changes your thinking. I can relate to these families more.
Parents put an enormous trust in you. The day before the operation, they meet a total stranger, who they have to trust with saving the life of their baby.
How did your training prepare you for what you do today?
The emotional maturation can’t be taught. You learn as you go, you teach that part to yourself. But being in a place where you can learn the technical skills from the best sets you up with the foundation you need to be able to hone those additional skills.
Our department thrives because our leaders are always asking, “What can we do better?” Dr. del Nido and Dr. John Mayer are the reason we’re good at what we do. I trained with Pedro del Nido; he sets the tone for the whole department. If we have a 99% success rate, he asks, “Why isn’t it 100?” He’s always motivating us to improve. Having such a person lead is inspirational.
What has been the most significant breakthrough in the field of cardiac surgery since you started?
I would say the formation of the Pediatric Heart Network, a multi institutional CHD research consortium that launched in 2001 largely due to the efforts of Dr. Jane Newburger.
The consolidation of data from so many institutions allows for us to answer critical questions. That’s how we figured out which shunt is better for the Stage 1 HLHS operation.
We’re moving away from the “scientist in a bubble” model towards a more collaborative model. It’s the shift from “my” research to “our” research; saying, “What are WE going to do? “
Can you tell us a little about research you are working on right now?
Right now, I’m working on creating a microscope that would allow you to see where a pacemaker is inside a tiny heart and stitch around it.
I work a lot with colleagues in different fields; mostly cardiologists and engineers. Not too long ago, I had an idea for an airway stent, to help kids who suffer from airway collapse. I called up Pierre Dupont, Chief of Pediatric Cardiac Bioengineering, and he created a prototype.
The privilege of being here is to do more than just operate. I love that part of my work, but I am also passionate about doing research- that’s what’s going to advance the field.
What do you wish more people knew/ understood about congenital heart disease?
It’s a bigger problem than most people believe it to be. There’s still a lot of work to be done around awareness; many people don’t know that CHD is the most common congenital birth defect.
What’s something people may not know about you?
I run every morning. I usually do about 5 or 6 miles. It’s my way to relieve stress, reconcile my thoughts and prepare for the day ahead.
What is your vision for the future of pediatric cardiac surgery?
At the Heart Center, we take people from all over the country— all over the world, really— and they have no support here, no emotional, social support. The families are under a lot of stress and a little help with logistics can go a long way.
My dream for the future of pediatric cardiac surgery is a streamlined, fully supportive process.
You’re pregnant, and you find out your unborn child has a heart defect. You come here, and we make the whole process of caring for you and your child seamless: from planning for birth, to staying in the area, to delivery, surgery, recovery, discharge and beyond. We take care of everything in house. We have come a long way towards making this a reality for all of our patients, and I think this is the way of the future.