Aerodigestive Program

The Aerodigestive Program at Lurie Children’s serves children with complex airway disorders, requiring pulmonary, upper digestive tract, sleep, voice, and swallowing evaluations. Building on the tradition of innovation and invention pioneered by four generations of airway surgeons, the Aerodigestive Program has grown out of the hospital’s historic airway experience.

The program focuses on the needs of the family, by providing coordinated, safe, and compassionate care tailored to each patient. As leaders in pediatric aerodigestive healthcare, we aim to serve local, national and international populations with an emphasis on personalized care.

Learn more about the Aerodigestive Program in the video below.

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Airway Surgery History at Lurie Children's

Formerly known as Children's Memorial Hospital, Lurie Children’s has a long history of airway innovation. Dr. Paul Holinger developed the first camera used for photographing the voice box and trachea, and from this work, published the first photographic atlas of the pediatric airway. Dr. Gabriel Tucker spent years studying voice box specimens and created a world-renowned collection of these specimens that are still referenced today. Dr. Joyce Schild was a pioneer as a prominent woman in surgery, who published extensively on pediatric airway disorders, and taught several generations of medical students. Dr. Lauren Holinger continued these traditions into the modern era, leading the Division of Otolaryngology, and working and publishing on pediatric airway surgery for 35 years until his retirement in 2014. We are proud to continue this legacy into its modern form.

The Aerodigestive Puzzle

Children with complex airway disorders are a unique group, often presenting with multiple problems affecting the airway, and the overall picture says more than the individual parts. Since the voice box is at the junction of the esophagus, throat, and trachea leading to the lungs, dysfunction in any of these areas affects the others. Coordinated care for these children is important, and by working collaboratively we provide optimal, individualized care for children with complex aerodigestive disorders. The Otolaryngology (Airway Surgeons), Pulmonary (Lung), Gastroenterology (GI), and Speech and Language Pathology teams evaluate patients together, both in the clinic and in the operating room, and look at the bigger picture of your child’s aerodigestive health. This approach helps to limit exposure to anesthesia while efficiently getting all the necessary information to guide treatment.

The treatment goals through our Aerodigestive Program include maximizing pulmonary function, controlling acid reflux, and preventing aspiration due to anatomic abnormalities. These efforts lead to better overall digestive, feeding, and pulmonary health, and provide the best health status for airway reconstruction, or safe removal of tracheostomy tubes through our decannulation program. Everything we do reflects our commitment to meet the needs and priorities of the family, with the ultimate goal of allowing children to live up to their fullest potential.

Aerodigestive Disorders We Manage

The Aerodigestive Team at Lurie Children's

The Gastroenterology and Pulmonary Medicine divisions at Lurie Children’s are consistently ranked among the top pediatric care programs in the country by U.S. News & World Report. Lurie Children’s continues to be the top hospital in Illinois. With knowledge and experience in endoscopy, intervention, and medical treatment, our medical specialists understand the complex nature of aerodigestive diseases, and how to optimize therapy.

Our Aerodigestive surgeons perform the most airway reconstructions, open and endoscopic, in the state of Illinois, and among the most of any pediatric institution in the United States. The experience of our surgeons provides an option for patients requiring complex revision airway reconstruction. We have extensive experience in evaluating and treating all facets of aerodigestive health, with the comprehensive resources of the largest children’s hospital in Illinois.

The Speech and Language Pathology team has broad resources for the evaluation and treatment of complex pediatric feeding and communication dysfunction. Our speech therapists undergo extensive training beyond their standard education, to become specialized in areas like feeding, endoscopic evaluation of swallowing, voice evaluations, velopharyngeal insufficiency (hypernasal speech), and other areas, providing expertise in all fields of pediatric speech therapy. From feeding and swallowing evaluations to voice evaluations, speaking valve fitting to articulation disorders, the speech therapists at Lurie Children’s have the expertise to help children meet and exceed their goals.

Meet Our Team

What to Expect

Your appointment in the Aerodigestive Clinic comprises multiple appointments with multiple providers. Depending on your child’s needs, you may see three physicians, a speech therapist, and a social worker, followed by an endoscopic evaluation of swallowing (FEES) exam. All in one afternoon. Within that time, a plan is developed among the providers, and will be compiled and communicated back to you by the next day. Our Aerodigestive staff, including nurse practitioners, nurse coordinators, and the program coordinator, are excellent resources for understanding the process, answering questions, scheduling procedures and tests, and providing guidance during the process. We are with you every step of the way.

Your child may require further studies such as:

  • Videofluoroscopic swallow study (Modified barium swallow)
  • Fiberoptic Endoscopic Evaluation of Swallow (FEES)
  • High Resolution CT scan of chest
  • Esophagram
  • Microdirect laryngoscopy/bronchoscopy (MLB)
  • Esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD) with esophageal biopsies
  • Ph-Impedance Study
  • Laboratory tests
  • Pulmonary Function Tests
  • Voice Evaluation
  • Sleep Study