A Tradition of Excellence in Children's Hearts

December 12, 2001
News Office: Janet Basu (415) 502-6397

For more than 30 years, UCSF has been a recognized leader in discoveries and advanced care for congenital heart defects. At UCSF Children's Hospital, cardiologists and cardiothoracic surgeons work with a complete team of specialists to treat children for malformations of the heart and major blood vessels that originate in early development.

Increasingly, UCSF's experts can treat complex heart defects that once would have been invariably fatal or life limiting, because they can begin as early as a few hours after a baby is born.

"Pediatric cardiac surgery begins as neonatal surgery now," said Dr. Tom Karl, the internationally renowned surgeon who joined UCSF on Nov. 12 as chief of pediatric cardiothoracic surgery. Some defects can be treated with one procedure; others require several procedures staged over time, but show better outcomes if the first repairs are completed early to prevent added complications in the child's developing heart.

Karl joins Dr. David Teitel, chief of pediatric cardiology, and UCSF colleagues from cardiologists to cardiac anesthesiologists to pediatric and neonatal intensive care experts, all specializing in children's hearts. Physicians with adult patients also refer them to this group when the underlying cause of a heart problem is a congenital malformation that requires further treatment.

To enhance this expert care, Teitel said that UCSF Children's Hospital is about to open the first stage of the UCSF Pediatric Heart Center. All of the outpatient care and communications with patients and their physicians will be centralized. Within the hospital, a focused group of nursing and physician staff will work together to deliver complete care of patients with congenital heart disease.

"With Dr. Karl and his surgical team working together with our pediatric cardiology and affiliated teams, we are developing an integrated, single point of access approach to the care of the infant and child with congenital heart disease," Teitel said. "With this coordinated approach, we can greatly enhance the quality of the care we afford to our patients. From birth through adulthood, they will receive their hospital care from the same group of health professionals."

Here are some highlights of UCSF's tradition of care for children's hearts:

-- More than three decades of renown in congenital heart disease at UCSF began with the leadership of emeritus professors Dr. Abraham Rudolph, Dr. Julien Hoffman and Dr. Michael Heymann. Their discoveries about how normal and abnormal hearts and lungs develop in the fetus and newborn helped make possible many of today's medical and surgical treatments. They were pioneers in cardiac catheterization to diagnose heart defects in babies and in medical treatments including drugs for heart problems that once required surgery.

-- Teitel and Dr. Philip Moore, director of the UCSF pediatric cardiac catheterization laboratory, are leaders in diagnosis and interventions with miniature instruments at the ends of catheters to open up blood vessels and close holes in tiny hearts.

-- UCSF cardiologist Dr. Mel Scheinman developed radiofrequency ablation as a minimally invasive technique to treat heart arrythmias in adults. Working with Scheinman, Dr. George Van Hare was among the first to apply this treatment to children. He leads the pediatric electrophysiology programs at UCSF and Stanford.

-- Dr. Norman Silverman leads a team of cardiologists that is world-renowned for non-invasive echocardiography. He uses echocardiograms to diagnose complex defects in fetal and infants' hearts and as a guide to the function of the child's beating heart during catheter and surgical procedures. Radiologist Dr. Charles Higgins is a leader in magnetic resonance imaging to provide another diagnostic view of tiny hearts.

-- More than 100 babies are born each year at UCSF because prenatal diagnosis showed they would need surgery or other treatment for life-threatening heart defects.

Many more newborns are transported soon after birth. UCSF's Intensive Care Nursery is a world leader in caring for newborns with heart defects. Recent research by UCSF cardiologists shows that early diagnosis and expert care for complex heart defects contributes to better outcomes after surgery.