A Vision with a Whole-Hearted Approach

Committed to Serving Children in the Rio Grande Valley and throughout South Texas

Long before the Driscoll Heart Center became the beacon for lifesaving heart care and treatment for South Texas’ children, there was a man with an unwavering vision. That man was cardiologist James Simpson, MD, and his vision, his mission beginning in the late ’60s was to make premier cardiac care available for all children and families throughout South Texas.

In those early days, Dr. Simpson’s dedication and commitment to heart care and healing for every child from Brownsville to Corpus Christi and back again were legendary. He led the way with pediatric cardiac outreach for children and families in the Rio Grande Valley and throughout South Texas, taking the level of care at that time to heights no one thought possible. Today, his legacy – steeped in that same dedication and commitment – lives on with The Driscoll Heart Center as it continues to expand and grow with new leadership, new processes, new technology and a new trajectory for committed caring and, in turn, the opportunity to take cardiac care to even greater heights for all children living in South Texas.

the cardiac intensive care unit at driscoll children’s hospital.

“Our mission,” explains Stephen Langley, MD, FRCS (Cth), FETCS, Chief of Cardiac Surgery and Medical Director of The Driscoll Heart Center, “is to continue the Driscoll journey as we enhance cardiac services offered to every child in South Texas to such a level that those services will match or exceed services offered at any pediatric heart program anywhere in the world. We are on a journey. There is no destination.” He adds thoughtfully, “It is a constant process, a constant pursuit.

“Our team is completely committed to that mission, that vision. We all know what we do here at Driscoll is – and always has been – for the children and their families. We are there for them anytime – day or night – doing what is best for the patient and their family, at the highest level. That’s it. Nothing else. It’s as simple as that.”

john karl maher, md, medical director of critical care services, driscoll children’s hospital, examines a heart center patient.
john karl maher, md, medical director of critical care services, driscoll children’s hospital, examines a heart center patient.

To that end, The Driscoll Heart Center is once again elevating the cardiac processes, technologies, physician skills, cardiac capabilities and staff at every possible turn, and they – The Heart Center Team – have a plan, one designed specifically to get right to the heart of the matter. And that plan includes cardiovascular surgery, cardiology, intensive cardiac care in the newly established Cardiac Intensive Care Unit (CICU), neonatology, anesthesiology services and maternal fetal care and fetal cardiology — all available for every child, every family in need in the Rio Grande Valley and throughout South Texas.

“I have been a pediatric intensivist at Driscoll for 22 years,” explains John Karl Maher, MD, Medical Director of Critical Care Services, “and Driscoll has always been a leader in pediatric cardiac care, and now what we are doing and are about to do for children in the Valley and Corpus Christi is once again extraordinary. We are going where we have never gone before with The Heart Center at Driscoll. What we are now doing and what we can offer children and families is remarkable. And bringing Dr. Langley here with his surgical and leadership skills and Dr. (Daniel) McKenna, as Medical Director of Cardiology, offers new vision and the opportunity to look at what we do through a completely new lens.”

As an intensivist, Dr. Maher and the Driscoll CICU Heart Center team often see children at some of their most critical moments in their continuum of care at Driscoll – just prior to or just following open heart surgery. With that in mind, the new CICU has 10 beds specifically designated for cardiac patients, with six intensivists and three nurse practitioners and a team of skilled nurses and technicians, all available around the clock for every child who comes to Driscoll Children’s Hospital. In addition to the intensive care offered in the CICU, The Heart Center includes surgical suites, cardiac diagnostic testing and interventional cath lab services.

Providing cardiology services for children in the Rio Grande Valley has been an integral part of Driscoll’s Heart Program for more than 50 years. Services include general pediatric cardiology as well as electrophysiology, cardiomyopathy and cardiac catheterization. In addition, Driscoll’s Specialty Centers in Brownsville, Harlingen and McAllen provide services from a variety of other pediatric specialty areas.

“We have 12 Driscoll cardiologists who work with The Heart Center, including two who live and work in the Rio Grande Valley – Albert Mendoza Paredes, MD, FAAP, and Ngozi C. Agu, MD,” says Daniel McKenna, MD, Medical Director of Cardiology. “In addition to the twelve Driscoll cardiologists, we have long-standing relationships and work closely and collaboratively with many other excellent and dedicated cardiologists in the Valley.

driscoll heart center team members daniel mckenna, md (from left); javier joglar, md; euming chong, md; stephen langley, md, frcs (cth), fetcs; john karl maher, md.

“What I have already learned at Driscoll,” says Dr. McKenna, “is that no one here is satisfied with the status quo. In The Heart Center, that means our whole team is committed to seeing and treating every child in South Texas with any type of heart issue, and we are dedicated to doing it with the greatest of care, the best and most skilled team, and the highest level of cardiac services and technology available. To that end, our goal is to see and treat every child where they live – and if at all possible – keep them and their families from having to travel anywhere, except when absolutely necessary.”

A Heart-Centered Path

Over the years – globally and locally at Driscoll Children’s Hospital – the advances in pediatric heart care have been exceptional, contributing to better outcomes for all children ranging from the tiniest babies with the most challenging congenital defects to older children and teenagers. A few of the most significant factors contributing to better outcomes include advances in technology, cardiology diagnostics and care, cardiovascular surgical skills, maternal fetal monitoring and pre- and post-surgical care.

“When you consider that open heart surgery only began in the 1950s,” explains Dr. Langley, “and now 70 years later, we are doing things never thought possible on the smallest of babies with the tiniest hearts, it is quite remarkable. With maternal fetal cardiology, babies with serious congenital heart defects can be delivered in the right place and have the right treatment from the moment they are born. In other words, we know they are coming, we can prepare – we, as a team, have a plan. This results in better outcomes, with greater chances of survival.

A Plan For The Heart from the Start: Fetal Cardiology

There is no question, fetal cardiology has advanced positive outcomes for children. In the Valley, mothers have access to critical cardiac care, and part of that includes early fetal diagnosis of congenital heart defects. Knowing there is a problem that will present itself at birth allows Driscoll to make a plan – a road map – for the baby, and the family.

“Fetal cardiology, “ says Dr. McKenna, “gives us a chance to make a plan for the mother and the baby. It helps us and the family understand where delivery should take place to facilitate the care the baby needs immediately. Precise fetal diagnosis allows some babies with congenital heart disease to deliver close to home – in the Valley. Some babies that may need immediate critical care, intervention or heart surgery can have a planned delivery closer to Driscoll so that those needs can be met. With careful planning of complex congenital heart disease, we can get the baby and family back home much sooner.”

Driscoll Cardiac Care: It’s All About The Team

From the start, any child who comes to The Driscoll Heart Center for cardiac care is cared for by a big team of highly skilled pediatric specialists. This team includes nurses, respiratory therapists, intensivists, neonatologists, anesthesiologists, cardiologists, surgeons, perfusionists, echocardiographers, pharmacists, social workers, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, nutritionists, and if needed at any moment, many other pediatric subspecialists.

“At The Driscoll Heart Center, we are a unified multi-disciplinary team,” says Javier Joglar, MD, Medical Director of Cardiac Anesthesiology. “We are successful in healing children because we all do our part. We have three pediatric anesthesiologists and we are involved in every aspect of care for children, from diagnosis to any heart procedures or surgeries, including pre- and post-op care. We deal with safety, pain management and constant monitoring for every child. We all are there for them for anything they might need.

“In truth, there is not a more stressful situation for a parent or a family than having a child going through surgery,” adds Dr. Joglar, “and that is heightened further when you are talking about open heart surgery, which is often extremely delicate and complex, particularly with tiny newborns.”

As for newborns who arrive at Driscoll from the Rio Grande Valley or anywhere else in the Driscoll service area who need care, their first home has always been the Driscoll NICU – the only certified Level IV Neonatal Intensive Care Unit in South Texas – where they are given medical care until they are stable enough to have surgery. Now, with the Heart Center’s CICU, that is not always the case.

“We now have a great option with the CICU,” says Neonatologist Euming Chong, MD. “Sometimes babies will not even come to the NICU at all. They will instead go straight to the CICU, depending on what heart lesions they might have at the time; it is a team decision and we decide what is best for the baby.

“To care for our babies,” says Dr. Chong, NICU Medical Director, “we have six neonatologists and 10 nurse practitioners in the Driscoll NICU, and with our heart babies, we meet as a team and round daily with cardiologists, cardiovascular surgeons, intensivists, dietitians, nurses and technicians. We can all already see The Heart Center’s CICU is making a significant difference for our babies and our families.”

From the Heart: Benchmarks and Outcomes

The Society of Thoracic Surgeons (STS) – in which 105 cardiac programs participate nationwide – tracks outcomes after pediatric cardiac surgery. Survival rates and length of stay (LOS) are important measures, allowing comparison amongst cardiac surgical programs. The following tables describe these two measures for Driscoll and compare them to the STS database.

There are five levels of risk for these two benchmarks, with Level 1 being the lowest risk and Level 5 the highest, and Driscoll is well below the average in each one, with a 98% survival rate.

As for length of stay following cardiac surgery at Driscoll, for the lowest risk level, the average stay is 1-3 days, compared to an average of 7 days nationally, and for the highest risk level – Level 5 – the average length of stay at Driscoll is 19 days, compared to 46 days nationwide. “To accomplish these remarkable outcomes,” explains Dr. Langley, “it takes an incredibly skilled team providing children with the highest level of care. We use this data to ‘benchmark’ our outcomes and take a look at our processes. This allows us to enhance what we do and how we do it for every child we treat at The Driscoll Heart Center.”

The Driscoll Heart Team clearly has an unwavering commitment and dedication to provide every child in South Texas with their whole-hearted approach.