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Resources for Patients & Families
If your child needs cardiac surgery, you can find one of the country’s finest pediatric heart surgery teams right here at the Nemours Cardiac Center in the Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Del., (named among the best children’s hospitals in the country by U.S. News & World Report for pediatric cardiology and pediatric heart surgery).
At the Nemours Cardiac Center, we offer first-class pediatric heart surgery as well as modern, non-surgical and combination treatment approaches. We’ve become a leader in minimizing the number of pediatric heart surgeries our young patients need. The techniques and advances we use can help babies and children avoid the trauma and recovery time of open-heart surgery. And our treatment options improve the outlook for scores of children — with less discomfort and shorter hospital stays.
Our Nemours Cardiac Center features its very own operating room, used exclusively for pediatric heart surgery and staffed with a highly skilled team of pediatric cardiology experts that includes:
- pediatric cardiologists (children’s heart doctors)
- pediatric cardiothoracic surgeons (who specialize in operating on children’s hearts and chests)
- pediatric cardiac nurses
- pediatric anesthesiologists (who work exclusively in our Nemours Cardiac Center)
Our board-certified surgeons have expertise in all aspects of pediatric heart surgery, including:
- neonatal surgery (operations on newborns)
- heart valve repairs
- aortic surgery (the large blood vessel coming from the heart)
- thoracic surgery (chest surgery)
- mechanical circulatory support (bypass)
- cardiac transplantation (heart transplant)
- single-ventricle palliation (temporary improvement in the function of the heart in babies born with one working ventricle instead of two; includes defects like hypoplastic left heart syndrome — when the left side of the heart is underdeveloped)
To provide top-rate pediatric heart surgery for children and their families before, during and after any heart operation, our specialists in pediatric cardiology and pediatric cardiac surgery lead a team of advanced practice nurses (APNs), physician assistants, pharmacists, physical and occupational therapists, dietitians (nutritionists), social workers and child life specialists.
For children with serious heart disease, surgery may be the best treatment option. Pediatric heart surgery is performed in our Nemours Cardiac Center’s state-of-the-art surgical suite (used exclusively for children with heart problems) to repair and reorganize abnormal structures in the heart so that the heart muscle isn’t overburdened. And early repair of a child's heart defect avoids years of often-damaging abnormal circulation and allows the heart to function normally again as quickly as possible.
But many children’s heart problems can be treated without any surgical incisions, using a procedure called “interventional (or therapeutic) cardiac catheterization” (in which a thin plastic tube is inserted into an artery or vein in the groin and guided into the heart). Many times, these cardiac catheterization procedures can close abnormal holes in the heart, open narrow blood vessels and valves, or permanently treat heart arrhythmias. We usually perform these procedures in our highly advanced digital cardiac catheterization and electrophysiology suite.
In some complex cases, members of our team work together to perform both open-heart surgery and interventional catheterization procedures in the cardiac operating room. By offering this kind of combined treatment option (typically called a “hybrid procedure”), many children can have less discomfort, faster recovery time, and shorter hospital stays. And we’re proud to be one of only a mere handful of centers in the United States where these hybrid pediatric heart surgery treatment capabilities are available.
Whenever possible, our pediatric heart surgeons repair heart abnormalities in children when they’re very young, which allows the newly constructed regions of the heart and blood vessels to grow as the child grows. This approach, along with the combined catheter and surgical procedures, allows us to minimize the number of pediatric heart surgeries – and gives youn children the very best chance of leading a happy, active, and long life.
In coordination with the Nemours Partners for Perinatal Management, the Nemours Cardiac Center’s fetal cardiology team works with expectant parents to diagnose heart conditions in babies before they’re even born. If you’re pregnant and your obstetrician/gynecologist (OB-GYN) and/or perinatologist (a doctor who specializes in high-risk pregnancies) suspects your baby may have a heart defect, we’ll perform a fetal echocardiography (or fetal “echo”).
This in-depth cardiac ultrasound study allows us to view the structure, function, and rhythm of a baby’s heart while still in the womb — as early as the 18th week of pregnancy.
We can do these special ultrasounds:
- at the duPont Hospital for Children (in the Nemours Cardiac Center)
- at Nemours duPont Pediatrics locations in Pennsylvania and New Jersey
- in consultation with maternal-fetal medicine specialists at two of our collaborating health care facilities, Nemours duPont Pediatrics at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital (in Center City Philadelphia) and Nemours duPont Pediatrics at Lankenau Medical Center (in Wynnewood, PA)
If we detect a defect, we’ll then help you understand your baby’s condition and start making plans for how to treat the problem once your baby’s born. That way, you’ll be prepared and know what to expect.
Although most children with heart disease can be successfully treated with medicine or pediatric heart surgery, for some, heart transplantation may be the answer. A heart transplant is a pediatric heart surgery that replaces a diseased heart with a healthy heart from another child. Pediatric heart transplantation is recommended for children who would not be able to live without having their heart replaced.
At duPont Hospital for Children, our pediatric Heart Transplant Program performed the very first heart transplant in the state of Delaware. Now, our specialists from cardiology and cardiac surgery lead a comprehensive team to provide transplant care for children and their families before, during, and after the pediatric heart transplant surgery.
We also have an active Mechanical Circulatory Support Program that provides Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (or ECMO) – a system that temporarily acts as a patient’s heart and lungs. In addition, we offer Ventricular Assist Devices (VAD) – mechanical pumps that take over the work of the damaged chamber (ventricle) of the heart.
This includes the Berlin Heart (a pump device that comes in various sizes to accommodate children). These assistive devices are used for children who need “artificial” heart support while waiting for a heart transplant or for their own heart problems to improve.
Our Nemours Cardiac Center also has its very own pediatric anesthesiologists, with the experience and skills required to provide specialized anesthesia for children with heart problems from the minor to the very complex. Our cardiology anesthesiologists provide anesthesia or deep sedation for pediatric heart surgery, cardiac catheterization, and other tests that may be painful or uncomfortable for your child.
Some of the medication we administer is intended to be given before a procedure to produce a relaxed feeling so your child won’t feel so scared or worried. Soon after reaching the location where the procedures are performed, your child will then get further sedation or general anesthesia, which makes for an anxiety- and pain-free experience during the procedure.
In the operating room, we give modern anesthetic medications that provide a safe and smooth transition to pain control after the procedure. When it’s appropriate, epidural medications (given as an injection in the lower back) are used to ease pain after pediatric heart surgery.
For catheterization or other outpatient procedures, your child will receive sedation or anesthetic medicines that provide a quick, more comfortable “wake up” and fewer side effects. Our anesthesiologists also “go on the road” to accompany your child to other parts of the hospital to provide sedation for diagnostic tests such as MRI or CT scan.
Because the pediatric cardiology anesthesiologists at the Nemours Cardiac Center often care for patients more than once, we get to know your child and your family, and we’re able to determine which medications and strategies work best for your child’s individual needs. We find that parents are often reassured to see a trusted familiar face as their child makes a trip to the operating room or other hospital location out of their watchful sight.
Infants and children who undergo pediatric heart surgery usually spend their first night after the operation in the cardiac intensive care unit (CICU). There may also be other times when the function of the heart, lungs, or kidneys are significantly impaired and your child will need to stay in the CICU. Children with complicated problems may stay there for extended periods of time.
In the CICU, we’ll closely and continuously watch your child and give medication for pain and sedation. Our doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, pharmacists, and other health professionals are equipped with sophisticated technology to monitor your child and adjust treatment on a moment-to-moment basis.
Whether you need to stay a short time or longer after your child’s heart surgery, families often appreciate our convenient location and beautiful grounds. We’re located in a park-like setting of huge oaks and inviting green lawns.
You’ll also find:
- free valet parking
- little red wagons (available for escorting young children)
- kid-friendly waiting areas
- gift shop
- café and cafeteria
- on-site pharmacy
- Child Life Activity Center
- Family Resource Center (with private sleeping rooms, a library, showers, kitchenette, laundry room, and business center)
Throughout your family’s pediatric heart surgery experience, know that at the Nemours Cardiac Center we do whatever it takes to give your child the very best, most comprehensive and compassionate care possible. We’ll be there to help your family every step of the way, treating your child as we would our own.