Keeping Hearts Healthy for Life

January 24, 2020

A worried expectant mother in her 29th week of pregnancy recently came to Lurie Children’s to consult with Joseph Forbess, MD, MBA, Head of the hospital’s Division of Cardiovascular-Thoracic Surgery. Tests performed by staff from The Chicago Institute for Fetal Health at Lurie Children’s indicated that the baby had coarctation of the aorta, a congenital heart disorder. After birth, the baby will need surgery because, if left untreated, the disorder and result in heart failure.

Creating Treatment Plans for Life

“This baby isn’t even out in the world yet, and we’re already putting together a treatment plan for the rest of his life,” says Dr. Forbess who, together with Stuart Berger, MD, Head of the Division of Cardiology, provides leadership for Lurie Children’s Heart Center. “Because long-term follow-up is necessary for individuals with this disorder, our cardiologists will follow him from childhood through early adulthood.”


Cardiac Critical Care attending physician Kiona Allen, MD, checks in on patient Ariel and her mom, Sabrina.

The Heart Center’s focus on providing expert care through the lifespan of a patient has played a major role in its reputation for excellence, as evidenced by Lurie Children’s heart program’s recent ranking as No. 2 in the nation by U.S.News & World Report.

“Being ranked at No. 2 is rewarding, but there are things we can do to make our program even better,” says Dr. Berger.

The Heart Center, which has more than 18,000 patient visits each year, is internationally known for its experience in performing the most complex heart surgeries. This year, more than 550 surgeries were performed, including more than 35 heart transplants, achieving some of the highest survival rates in the nation.

An increased demand for care has resulted in the recent expansion of the Regenstein Cardiac Care Unit CCU, where inpatients with the most complex heart conditions stay in the same private room from admission to discharge. The unit recently added eight beds, expanded facilities and hired more than 40 new nurses.

Addressing Neurodevelopmental Issues

As babies who have undergone heart surgery become children and then adolescents, issues arising from their earlier surgeries may cause developmental and psycho-social impairment. For these patients, Lurie Children’s care continues long after discharge. The NICU-Cardiac Neurodevelopmental Program provides support for children with issues involving school achievement, language, visual processing, memory, attention, executive functioning and motor skills.

Adolescents also benefit from the Adult Congenital Heart Disease Program ACHD, which includes a program designed to ease the transition from pediatric to adult cardiac care. This care coordination from pediatric cardiologist to ACHD cardiologist provides a seamless continuity of care and reduces risks of problems from multiple hand-offs to different physicians. In the last five years, a number of prominent recruits have made a major impact on the quality and breadth of services in the Heart Center. In addition to Dr. Forbess and Dr. Berger, these include Bradley Marino, MD, Director of the Center for Cardiovascular Innovation; Kenneth Brady, MD, Head of the Division of Cardiac Anesthesia; and Alan Nugent, MBBS, Medical Director of Interventional Cardiac Catheterization, among others.

Staying in Tune

Dr. Berger refers to the Heart Center leadership as “the Dream Team.” Dr. Forbess prefers a different analogy.

“The Chicago Symphony Orchestra has elite musicians on every instrument,” he says. “And that’s what we’re trying to do at the Heart Center: recruit elite people in each subspecialty – from the best CCU nurses to top catheterization specialists and electrophysiologists, to name a few. The challenge is keeping it together. And that’s where philanthropy comes in. Just like orchestras need philanthropic support to maintain an elite team, so does our Heart Center.”

Dr. Berger is the Getz Professor in Cardiology; Dr. Forbess is the Willis J. Potts, MD Professor in Surgery.