A heart unbroken
UF Health Congenital Heart Center celebrates 10 years of healing hearts
By Alisha Kinman
In December of 2014, Adam and Cassidy Pridgeon received exciting news that they would be welcoming their first child in the following year.
However, excitement quickly turned to concern when the couple discovered that their daughter, Jessa, would be born with a congenital heart defect. Shortly after Jessa was diagnosed in utero with Turner syndrome — a chromosomal disorder that can cause a congenital heart defect — Adam and Cassidy were referred to the UF Health Congenital Heart Center.
After further examination at the UF Health Congenital Heart Center, Jennifer Co-Vu, M.D., noticed that Jessa would be born with a narrowed aorta, and a small aortic arch. Four weeks after Jessa’s birth, Mark Bleiweis, M.D., center director and chief of congenital cardiothoracic surgery, and his team of anesthesiologists, cardiologists, nurses and staff performed the operation to correct her anomaly.
“It’s the compassion and human touch that sets the center apart,” Adam Pridgeon said. “It’s what doctors and nurses don’t learn from a book. Without them, we wouldn’t have a story to tell.”
In January, the UF Health Congenital Heart Center celebrated 10 years of healing hearts just like Jessa’s for patients of all ages diagnosed with congenital heart defects.
Since opening at the UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital in 2006, the center has treated 2,397 first-time patients, and has been ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top 50 pediatric cardiology and heart surgery centers in the United States for five years in a row.
Led by Bleiweis, the center is staffed by a specialized team of four pediatric cardiovascular surgeons, 13 pediatric cardiologists, five pediatric critical care specialists, one pediatrician and a multidisciplinary group of dedicated faculty and staff.
In addition to being ranked by U.S. News & World Report, the Congenital Heart Center remains the only practice in the north central Florida region with pediatric and adult congenital heart specialists who offer a continuum of care for patients of all ages.
“With being known as a center that treats the most complex cases from across region, the UF Health Congenital Heart Center has put Gainesville on the map as home to one of the leading children’s hospitals for pediatric cardiology and heart surgery centers in the nation,” Bleiweis said.
In 2006, the UF Health Congenital Heart Center was the first in Florida to use the Berlin Heart, an external device designed for children that connects to the patient’s own heart as a bridge to transplant. Seven years later, UF Health would become the first pediatric heart center in Florida to implant the SynCardia Total Artificial Heart into a 16-year-old patient. She was the youngest patient in the world to leave the hospital with the SynCardia heart and Freedom portable driver, a wearable power supply for the SynCardia heart. With these technologies, the Congenital Heart Center is able to offer a temporary fix to patients who are awaiting transplant.
In addition, the Congenital Heart Center has a comprehensive Interventional Cardiac Catheterization Lab for its congenital heart patients. Interventional catheterization can provide less invasive approaches to treatments. It is most often used to gather information about the heart or its blood vessels to treat certain types of heart conditions, or to find out if a patient needs surgery. The highly trained interventional pediatric cardiologists at the center perform about 400 diagnostic and interventional catheterizations each year.
Most recently, the Pediatric Cardiac Intensive Care Unit, or PCICU, opened in January 2014 to better serve the center’s most complex cases. From July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2015, 336 unique patients were seen in the PCICU. The 18,000-square-foot expansion included 23 private patient rooms, each with its own bathroom and shower. In addition, there is a dedicated area for physical therapy in the PCICU that is designed for children with congenital heart defects.