Congenital means a disease or physical abnormality that is present at birth. Congenital heart defects are structural heart conditions that a baby is born with that affect the walls, valves, arteries or veins of the heart. Congenital heart defects are the most common types of birth defects, affecting nearly 1% of – or about 40,000 – births per year in the United States.
Many babies born with these abnormalities do not need treatment. However, about 25% of congenital heart defects are serious enough to need surgery or other procedures within a baby’s first year of life. Children diagnosed with congenital heart defects also often need ongoing cardiology-focused care and support throughout their lives to ensure continuous heart functionality and health.
If your child is diagnosed with a congenital heart defect that does require surgery, it’s understandable to want to know what is going to happen before, during and after surgery and who is involved in the continuum of care throughout the process. Here at UT Health Austin’s Center for Pediatric and Congenital Heart Disease, specialized care is organized to assist patients throughout the entire treatment process and into recovery to ensure the best possible surgical outcomes.
The teams involved throughout your child’s care are highly specialized and include a variety of medical professionals. From your cardiologist, to your surgical team, to your caseworker who helps you navigate the processes, the team helping you is vast, and they all center their attention on you and your child. Each person on the team is an indispensable part of a bigger goal, the health and safety of your baby. But when it comes to surgery, you often don’t hear as much about the individuals in the operating room other than your surgeon. So, who all is on the team?
At UT Health Austin’s Center for Pediatric and Congenital Heart Disease, our surgeons, Charles Fraser, MD, Carlos Mery, MD, and Ziv Beckerman, MD manage a team of professionals that each play a critical role during surgery. Your child’s anesthesiologist is hyperspecialized in cardiac anesthesia and is present through the duration of the operation to administer anesthesia and to monitor the patient’s vitals including breathing, heart rate, blood pressure, and take any necessary precautions.
During surgery, a cardiopulmonary bypass machine is used to divert blood away from the heart and lungs while continuing uninterrupted flow through the rest of the body. A Perfusionist is responsible for operating this machine to maintain blood flow and regulate optimal levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood.
Of all the various specialists in the Operating Room, highly-skilled OR nurses are probably the most numerous during pediatric heart surgeries. The OR nurses have a variety of responsibilities in making sure everything is well organized and the surgery is performed under the highest possible standards. Advanced Practice registered nurses play a role in assisting the surgeons during the operation such as handling equipment, administering medication and more. Scrub nurses ensure all instruments are sterilized and correctly positioned for the surgeon, while providing assistance in attaching equipment and passing instruments to the surgeon throughout the procedure. The circulating nurses take care of all the documents required before surgery and the procurement of the instruments and surgical supplies. You also have surgical technicians available in the OR to anticipate the next steps throughout the procedure in order to provide the surgeon with the correct instruments and equipment at the correct time.
As a teaching hospital, medical students and residents may also be involved throughout the various stages of patient care, including observing or being a part of surgery in the OR when appropriate. Medical students and residents trained by our leading doctors help to ensure that our next generation of doctors is prepared to not only deliver care of the highest quality, but to contribute their own creativity and skill to help advance the practice of medicine for everyone.
While all the process of a surgery can be stressful for you and your family, we hope you take comfort in knowing that our highly-trained and highly-specialized team of medical professionals is committed to doing everything they can to care for your child, from diagnosis, through the surgical procedure, and beyond. And while surgery may be a significant part of your child’s care, it is not the only part. The assistance our staff will provide before and after surgery will help ensure a successful recover for your baby, and your entire family. Your cardiologist, the critical care team, nurses, patient and family services team and more are all a part of your personal care team at UT Health Austin and Dell Children’s Medical Center.