On May 19, more than 50 members of Children’s Hospital Central California, the community and patient families celebrated the Hospital’s opening of The Willson Heart Center’s new $4 million, state-of-the-art pediatric catheterization laboratory. From closing a hole in a newborn’s heart to widening a teenager’s narrowed heart valve, the high-tech facility ensures that area children maintain access close to home to the most minimally invasive techniques available to diagnose and treat cardiovascular disease.
“This exceptional lab is the only one of its kind between Los Angeles and the Bay Area,” James Meinert, Children’s vice president, philanthropy, told the crowd. “It is second to none.”
The new addition replaced the Hospital’s functional but aging “cath lab” with a more streamlined, automated version. It features an advanced Bi-plane X-Ray system that provides a full range of clinical angulations and options for cardiovascular and electrophysiology studies. The enhanced imaging system also utilizes only about one-tenth of the current dose of radiation, making the procedures safer for children.
Children’s event included a reception and tour of the lab for attendees. The Hospital also awarded two honorary stars. The first was a Donor Star to The Radin Foundation for its $500,000 contribution to the new cath lab and ongoing support for Children’s over the years. It will be placed in the day surgery waiting room.
“We’re very indebted to The Radin Foundation for providing further support for the new lab,” said Dr. Kenneth Jue, a longtime pediatric cardiologist at Children’s who helped develop the Hospital’s cardiology program and facilitate The Radin Foundation grant.
The other was a Bronze Star for the McDougal family in memory of John and Jennifer McDougal’s 7-week-old daughter, Mallory, who was treated at Children’s for what turned out to be an irreparable congenital heart defect. It was also given in honor of her parents’ creation along with family members Jeff and Cindy McDougal of the annual “An Evening Under the Stars” gala, which has raised $250,000 to benefit the Hospital’s Willson Heart Center and increased awareness of the Center’s services. The McDougals’ other children Stephanie and Adam also have required the services of Children’s pediatric cardiologists. The star will be placed outside the first-floor cardiology testing center.
During the reception, Dr. Carl Owada, an interventional cardiologist and medical director of Children’s catheterization lab, described the evolution of the lab from Children’s Hospital’s original site in downtown Fresno to when the Hospital relocated to Madera in 1998. After more than a decade, the lab at the current site was becoming outdated, with some replacement parts no longer available. “I feel like I’m talking to my family,” said Dr. Owada to the group. “Your help and dedication made this possible. It took an entire family – all of you – to get this done.”
He led the audience on a tour of the new lab to get a firsthand view themselves. Complete with flat-screen monitors, a larger-than-average viewing window and high-tech equipment, the facility awed participants.
“It’s absolutely amazing,” said John McDougal. His wife agreed, adding, “There are so many children affected by heart disease outside our own family. It’s wonderful that we have this kind of facility available right here.”
A pioneer in pediatric cardiac catheterization, Dr. Owada was recognized for his contribution to pediatric cardiology with the introduction of congenital heart defect repair by interventional catheterization techniques, thus avoiding open heart surgery. He also twice received the Children’s Hospital Central California Board of Trustees Meritorious Service Award for Research and Innovation. When project planning for the new lab began two years ago, Dr. Owada and other members of his clinical staff were very involved in developing the workflow and design. “What struck me was the amount of staff input on this project,” said Mark Muzny, vice president of Metropolitan Builders, the project’s contractor, adding that the lab opened a week ahead of schedule. “It made it a lot easier.”
The new lab relocated from the first to the second floor. Just steps away from the cardiac surgical suite, patients can be transported more easily and safely if needed. The Hospital donated equipment from the previous cath lab for medical use in the earthquake-devastated Chile.
Children’s new facility is expected to become a show site for other hospitals to observe. Prior to construction, project planners visited cath labs at selected pediatric hospitals nationwide to identify best practices. “The end result is that we have a very efficient, top-of-the-line lab that will serve the community and children well,” said Dr. Owada.
Staffed by experienced pediatric interventional cardiologists and nursing staff, the cath lab team treats infants and children. They perform about 200 procedures a year. Half of these procedures are diagnostic. The remainder is interventional, including relieving valve obstructions or blockages, embolizing abnormal blood vessels, and performing atrial septal defect (ASD) closures, ventricular septal defect (VSD) closures, angioplasties, stents and more. Patients complete the procedures under anesthesia or sedation in a surgical room environment.
“Twenty years ago some kids would have died or needed open-heart surgery if it weren’t for what we can do now,” said Dr. Owada.
In the United States, congenital heart defects affect one out of every 100 births. Twice as many children die each year from congenital heart disease than from all forms of childhood cancer combined. Most of these babies are diagnosed shortly after birth or in utero. An early diagnosis and specialized pediatric treatment are critical to these children's survival and healthy development. Complex surgeries and procedures on hearts the size of a walnut require skilled pediatric specialists and up-to-date technology. Children also need special sedation and monitoring because of their size, age and differing ability to cooperate.
Performing one of the Central Valley’s first open-heart surgeries in 1958, Children’s Willson Heart Center has pioneered cardiac care for half a century. Each year, the cardiac subspecialists provide state-of-the-art therapeutics for congenital and pediatric acquired cardiovascular disease to more than 8,000 infants and children.