Specialized Intensive Care for Pediatric Heart Patients

Thomas L'Ecuyer, MD; James Gangemi, MD; and William Harmon, MD

With the introduction of a dedicated pediatric cardiac intensive care unit (CICU) this summer, UVA Children’s Hospital is taking in-hospital care to the next level, according to William Harmon, MD, Medical Director of Critical Care Services. “By bringing consistent, subspecialty care to patients with complex cardiac needs, we can continue to deliver world-class outcomes to the children of Virginia,” he says.

UVA Children’s Hospital Heart Center has long been recognized as a leader in pediatric cardiac care, with one of the longest-running pediatric heart transplant programs in the region and a team made up of some of the nation’s most experienced pediatric critical disease specialists. Now, with the state’s only pediatric CICU, UVA is making it even easier for families to receive advanced heart care close to home.

Heart-Focused Care Team
Already in place at UVA Children’s Hospital is an ICU staff highly skilled in caring for acutely ill pediatric patients with a range of conditions. The CICU will build upon this foundation of excellence, going one step further to individualize care delivery for those patients with heart disease.

“Pediatric heart care is highly specialized and complex, so you want experienced providers who do the same thing day after day,” says Harmon. “For the CICU, we are bringing together a consistent group of cardiac surgeons, cardiologists, intensivists, nurse practitioners, anesthesiologists — an entire team focused solely on caring for children with heart disease.”

UVA has invested heavily in pediatric heart care over the years and, as a result, this team will have access to the advanced tools necessary to treat even the youngest heart patients. “The practice of pediatric cardiac care requires cutting-edge monitoring, mechanical circulatory support and other specialized technology that is fully available here at UVA,” says Harmon.

Foundation of Excellence
Leading the effort to establish the pediatric CICU, Harmon is a fairly recent addition to UVA Children’s Hospital, beginning his tenure in September 2013. He is subspecialty-certified in pediatric cardiology and pediatric critical care, and served as Chief of Pediatric Cardiology and Cardiac Intensive Care at Holtz Children’s Hospital at the University of Miami prior to joining UVA.

“Because I have cared for children both before and after surgery, I have a broad perspective as to what these kids and families are going through,” he says. “I see the importance of quality intensive care but also recognize the importance of minimizing the impact of the surgical process as much as possible. Our goal is getting children out of the hospital as quickly as possible so they can get back to the real work of being kids.”

Harmon says he was drawn to UVA because of its reputation for providing excellent cardiac care. Today, he works alongside colleagues who have been instrumental in the program’s expansion and success, including thoracic and cardiovascular surgeon James Gangemi, MD, and cardiologist Thomas L’Ecuyer, MD, Pediatric Cardiology Division Chief, among others.

“UVA is heavily invested in bringing high-quality pediatric heart care to all children in Virginia who need it,” says Harmon. “For example, we have expanded the pediatric heart transplant program over the last two years, saving the lives of a dozen children with successful cardiac transplantations. Our pediatric and adult congenital surgical cases continue to increase in volume and complexity, with a constant focus on quality and fine-tuning the program.”

“A pediatric CICU is one indicator of a quality pediatric heart program, says Harmon. “UVA will continually look for new ways to advance the care of children with complex cardiac needs. This is just one more milestone for an already successful program.”