Brandon was born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome.

Brandon was born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome.

As a pediatric heart surgeon, every day I ask myself the same two questions. I walk into the operating room thinking, “If this was my child, what would I want the surgeon to do?” And after spending hours repairing a tiny heart, roughly the size of a walnut, I ask myself, “If this was my child, what would I want the surgeon to tell me?”

It means so much when I can talk with families, tell them to relax and take a deep breath, because their child now has the best possible chances to grow up with a healthy heart.

One of my favorite stories is about Brandon, a 3-day-old baby who was born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, a very serious heart condition where one side of the heart is underdeveloped. His mother, one of our ER nurses, knew something was wrong. She rushed him to the hospital, and we did two open-heart surgeries. But Brandon suffered heart failure, and we had to place him in a medically induced coma.

The Berlin Heart, a machine that can temporarily take the place of a patient’s heart, kept Brandon alive while we waited for a new heart to become available. Only months before Brandon was born, I had the privilege of serving on the panel that presented findings to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration resulting in approval of the use of the Berlin Heart for children in the United States.

Brandon now has a new heart. His mom reports, “He’s just a regular 3-year-old. You’d never know what he’s been through.”

Children's Hospital of Wisconsin Heart Care ranked #7 by Parents MagazineHeart care ranked #7 in the nation

Parents magazine recently ranked heart care at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin #7 in the nation in its 2013 Best Children’s Hospitals surveyThis ranking isn’t a popularity contest. It’s based on solid data about things like services, technology and quality of staff. While I am proud of this national ranking, it doesn’t mean as much as a patient success story like Brandon’s.

Now you know why I love my job, and why I never find it hard to come to work.

James Tweddell, MD– James Tweddell, MD, pediatric cardiothoracic surgeon, Herma Heart Center, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin

Herma Heart Center at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin is one of the nation’s top programs for medical and surgical treatment of congenital heart defects and heart disease in children.


Repairing tiny hearts: Why I love my job — 4 Comments

  1. Dr. Tweddell helped my Juliana at 18 months with open heart surgery due to her tetraology of fallot. She is a thriving young girl of age 7 and her future looks wonderful! Because of prayer through God and Dr. Tweddell’s steady hand she will most likely not need another surgery in her future as was expected. In fact, our yearly cardiology appt.s are every 3 years now. Thank you Dr. Tweddell for your hard work, knowledge, and compassion you give tirelessly for all the children and families you help. Also, thank you for letting this weird strange mother hug you after a long day of surgery 6 years ago. I thank God for you.

  2. Dr. Tweddell and all of the team members on the Cardiac team gave us hope of life when we feared all hope was lost. Rivers’ was diagnosed at 22 weeks gestation with a very complex heart defect (a combination of multiple malformations) and now, at 2, he’s had two open surgeries. As the dust continues to settle from our most recent surgery at the end of last year, we take time to thank and send love to the hands that repaired our son’s heart. I will never forget your words, as I sat in the waiting desperate and sick with worry… “Everything went perfectly.” Indeed it did. Thank you. God bless.

  3. This article was very heartwarming to me. My 3 year old son Ryan will be needing his first open heart surgery in the next year or two. He needs a ROSS procedure. We absolutely love Ryan’s cardiologist and have been truly blessed to have such a wonderful doctor caring for our son. We were told when it comes time to have surgery we should choose Dr. Tweddel as he is the best, after reading this I have no doubt in my mind who we will turn to. Thank you for all you do!

  4. Dr. Tweddell repaired my daughter Leila’s heart on September 25, 2012. The date is like a another birthday for us. He is one of not many in the country that would give my daughter a chance. Leila was born with a condition called Trisomy 18 (full) or Edwards Syndrome. She has a 3rd copy of her 28th chromosome in all of her cells. This condition is usually considered fatal or “not compatible with life”, although we would disagree with that. Since her heart repair, Leila is doing very well and has already beaten so many odds just by being here at 13-1/2 months! We will always be grateful to Dr. Tweddell and the amazing cardiac staff at Children’s.