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.”
Parents magazine recently ranked heart care at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin #7 in the nation in its 2013 Best Children’s Hospitals survey. This 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, 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.