Thursday, February 6, 2014

Medical specialists at Children’s of Alabama use teamwork and technology for cardiovascular care

By: Dr. Yung Lau, a pediatric cardiovascular electrophysiologist, is director of the Division of Pediatric Cardiology at Children’s of Alabama.

Children’s of Alabama recently marked one year since pediatric cardiovascular services moved into the new Joseph S. Bruno Pediatric Heart Center from University of Alabama Hospitals. This move has markedly improved the scope and delivery of care. The program has been the primary referral point for patients with pediatric and congenital heart disease from throughout the state but the move has allowed us to progress quickly to advance the care of our patients further and more completely.


Two elements have contributed to this progress: Our technology and our team.


Our new facility provides one of the best platforms for care in the world. We have the latest equipment in the right configuration. First, the Bruno Heart Center is really a heart hospital within a hospital — located on the entire fourth floor of the Benjamin Russell Hospital for Children.


The center includes a 20-bed intensive care unit, a 16-bed telemetry ward, two dedicated cardiovascular surgical suites, two catheterization labs; one of which is a “hybrid” room where a patient can undergo surgery and catheterization simultaneously. The intensive care unit has four rooms dedicated to extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), which is similar to the heart bypass process often used during cardiac surgery.


Having all these facilities and equipment located on one floor is critical for the care and comfort of our cardiovascular patients. Operating rooms are near catheterization labs. And they are on the same floor as the hybrid room and the ICU. So children who are on many intravenous medications and even on ECMO can be moved among any of these rooms without ever having to switch floors. That is really, really huge. Our intensive care unit used to be housed in a large, single room. Now, there are private rooms with space for parents to stay while their child is hospitalized.


While the facilities are world-class, we are just as proud of the multispecialty, multidisciplinary team that has been assembled to deliver comprehensive care. Cardiologists, surgeons, intensivists and anesthesiologists all work together. It’s not just in name only. Every one of those specialties is dedicated solely to the care of children with heart disease. I don’t know if there is any other field where there is such a close alliance and such teamwork among so many different specialties.


We’ve always taken care of the children well, but the big advantage of coming to Children’s of Alabama has been creating this team, and gaining greater depth in our support staff. We have dedicated cardiovascular nurses, dedicated nurse practitioners, a dedicated registered dietician, dedicated speech therapists, dedicated occupational and physical therapists, dedicated social workers, a dedicated child life expert and a dedicated pharmacist.


A counselor who only treats CV patients is available to our patients through Children’s Harbor. When children undergo serious illnesses, there is a psychological burden that comes with that. Counseling can be helpful in the child’s and family’s adjustment to their new reality.


In all, a team of about 250 medical professionals and support personnel are working to conduct 400 heart surgeries a year, along with 700 catheterizations and electrophysiology studies.


We are also committed to delivering the best possible outpatient cardiology care to children in a timely and efficient manner. Our next available appointment for any patient is within two weeks, which is almost unheard of among pediatric subspecialties. Being able to see patients in a timely manner has really strengthened our bond with cardiologists, pediatricians and primary care doctors throughout the state. They are now sending their patients to us instead of out of state.


For us physicians, this move to Children’s of Alabama has been an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to help design the facilities, choose the best equipment and develop this team approach to pediatric cardiovascular care in a true collaborative fashion.

 Dr. Yung Lau, a pediatric cardiovascular electrophysiologist, is director of the Division of Pediatric Cardiology at Children’s of Alabama. He has 20 years of experience as a pediatric cardiologist. He earned his MD at Loma Linda University, and received addition training at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and Medical University of South Carolina.

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