Nov. 1, 2019 – I was excited to start my morning with the talented team members from Rady Children’s Heart Institute, which was created to integrate and coordinate the research and educational programs of the cardiology and cardiovascular surgery divisions. Their common goal is to provide optimal care for infants, children and adults with congenital heart defects, and to advance our knowledge and understanding of congenital heart disease.
We got underway with a hot breakfast and introductions from the team, which includes a wide range of specialized experts, such as echocardiogram technicians, catheterization lab technicians, nurses, cardiologists, cardiovascular surgeons, nurse practitioners, patient access representatives and medical assistants.
Cardiology and Heart Center Supervisor Ben Brenners then began the presentation with an introduction to the Heart Institute, which is called “an institute without walls” for a reason: Services are provided at locations across campus and across the region, with outpatient services at satellite locations in El Centro, Encinitas, Escondido, Murrieta and Oceanside. Rady Children’s is also a major referral center for patients living in Imperial, Riverside and Orange Counties, as well as Hawaii, New Mexico, Mexico and many Pacific Rim islands.
Next, Echo and EKG Manager Kristina Antipoff introduced me to some other teams within the Heart Institute. The five-person fetal team focuses on the detection, evaluation and management of prenatal cardiovascular diseases, such as congenital heart defects; fetal heart function, including irregular heartbeat; and other congenital anomalies. There’s also a team of pediatric cardiac sonographers that use imaging equipment (echocardiograms, 3D echocardiographs, MRI scans and CT scans) to assess heart disease, which is vital in determining a diagnosis and the best course of treatment.
I learned the volume of echocardiograms has steadily risen over the years, from about 13,000 in 2014 to more than 17,000 in 2018. The team has grown to include more than 20 sonographers and expanded services into Oceanside and El Centro. The EKG team is also building up, with more team members and increased efforts around internal and external education and teaching. The team also supports technology including the Bardy, Cardiokey and Seer wearable heart monitors.
I am excited about an incredible new piece of technology that is coming soon: an interventional cardiac MRI. Dr. Kanishka Ratnayaka is working to create the first pediatric image-guided intervention center in the country for cardiac procedures here at Rady Children’s. The center will leverage leading-edge imaging technology such as real-time MRI, which has better visualization than X-rays and eliminates harmful radiation. The 3D real-time imaging enables procedures to be conducted even as the heart beats. Pretty cool stuff!
Next I heard about the vital role of administrative staff. We would not be able to function without them! Among other things, they schedule between 30 and 40 percent of all cases; manage physician schedules and clinics; and coordinate specialty clinics, including a single ventricle clinic (coming soon) and a transitional clinic to help pediatric heart patients transition to adult care.
Mark Abcede, director of clinical research and data analytics, continued the presentation with details on how the Heart Institute has made research a major focus, with a mission to conduct high-quality, patient-oriented research. The institute’s research includes clinical trials, outcomes analysis and evaluation of clinical pathways, and has grown from 15 studies in 2012 to 84 today. One recent highlight from this team came in September, when the National Institutes of Health awarded researchers a $3.1 million grant to improve treatment of tetraology of Fallot, a common pediatric heart condition. Researchers also collaborate with more than 20 health care and higher education institutions, societies, consortiums and pharmaceutical companies.
As a former cardiologist and electrophysiologist, I am more familiar with what this team does than any other — and I am impressed. I love how this group is embracing new technology and focusing on research to enhance patient care and safety and fortify our position as one of the top pediatric heart programs in the country. This is meaningful work, and I am so proud of this team’s passion for the mission and how they truly have a heart for kids.