Twenty Years and Counting… Connecticut Children’s Heart Program Still Growing

Categories: Cardiology & Cardiovascular Surgery
Felice Heller, MD, of the Connecticut Adult Congenital Heart Program, with patient Tim Carmon, one of 1,800 adult cardiology patients seen at Connecticut Children’s.

Pediatric Cardiology at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center has undergone tremendous growth and transformation over the last 20 years.

When the hospital first opened its doors in 1996, we were a private practice group of four pediatric cardiologists and one nurse, renting office space on the second floor of the hospital. Each doctor performed his own echocardiograms and catheterizations, personally cared for his own patients in the ICU after surgery, and followed them as outpatients throughout childhood, developing lasting relationships.

As our practice got busier and demand grew for more specialized expertise, we added many new faces and developed distinct areas of sub-specialization. Today, our practice consists of 11 doctors, two nurse practitioners, five nurses, six sonographers, a congenital cardiovascular surgeon and a surgical physician assistant, and we are still growing! We merged with the hospital in 2010 and are now fully integrated within Connecticut Children’s.

Subspecialists Bring New Expertise

We now have doctors who sub-specialize in rhythm disorders, cardiac catheterization, echocardiography, cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), fetal cardiology, adult congenital heart disease and inpatient/post-op management. These specialists brought new expertise and technology to Connecticut Children’s.

Our cardiologists are able to close holes in the heart and open blocked blood vessels and valves through a very small catheter, avoiding the need for open-heart surgery. We can place pacemakers and internal defibrillators and implant tiny rhythm monitoring devices in at-risk patients. Some rhythm abnormalities can be cured by delivering a tiny radiofrequency current to the heart muscle. We can also produce spectacular 3-D images of complex anatomy using echocardiograms and MRI.

Fetal Cardiology and Adult Care, Too!

We have developed a very successful fetal cardiology program, where accurate prenatal diagnosis of the most complex heart disease has led to better newborn care and improved patient outcomes. When necessary, even the tiniest babies and those with the most severe cardiac defects can undergo corrective heart surgery.

At the other end of the age spectrum, we have a special program for adults with congenital heart disease, including two cardiologists—Dr. Shailendra Upadhyay and myself—who were among the first in the country to become board certified in this emerging field.

New Research, New Techniques

Several members of our Division are also actively engaged in research. One important project uses cardiac MRI for early detection of heart muscle damage during chemotherapy.

Another project is trying to identify markers of susceptibility to infection in newborns with congenital heart disease.

As you will read in the Winter 2017 issue, other members of our Division have developed techniques to minimize or eliminate radiation exposure during catheterization procedures. Our inpatient team created standardized care pathways for post-op management in the ICU. Others developed standardized outpatient management of our high-risk babies with single ventricles.

All of these initiatives have improved quality and safety of care. We continually aim to develop best practices throughout our work, while passing on our expertise to the next generation of medical professionals from the University of Connecticut School of Medicine.

We are very fortunate to be able to do all of this work in our newly renovated, state-of-the-art, Vincent J. Dowling Family Cardiovascular Care Center. Learn more about our new Center on page 5 of this issue (link to new center post page).

Committed to High-Quality Patient Care

Looking back over the past two decades, it is remarkable to see how our Heart Program at Connecticut Children’s has evolved. We have grown from four general pediatric cardiologists to a large group of highly trained sub-specialists using cutting-edge technology, with a developing focus on research and training. What hasn’t changed is our unwavering commitment to high-quality, patient-centered care, and the supportive relationships we develop with our patients and their families.