Checking Our Pulse
The Children’s Heart Center at URMC provides cardiac and cardiovascular surgical care for children and adults born with structural heart disease or children with acquired heart problems. The center provides a full range of outpatient and inpatient services and works closely with pediatric cardiologists across upstate New York to provide comprehensive cardiac care to patients throughout the region.
Below, Roger Vermilion, M.D., Chief of the Division of Pediatric Cardiology, discusses the Center’s recent growth and its plans for the future.
Tell us about the Children’s Heart Center’s growth over the past decade or so.
We’ve grown in two very significant ways. The first is from a service-line standpoint. We have always strived to treat every type of pediatric heart ailment, but in recent years we’ve enhanced our ability to provide even more specialized services within what is already a very specialized field and we have developed multiple subspecialized clinics. For example, if your child has an elevated cholesterol level and you bring them to Golisano Children’s Hospital, you won’t just see a pediatric cardiologist — you’ll see a pediatric cardiologist who has specific interest and expertise in lipid disorders. We now offer many other subspecialized clinics in areas such as Marfan syndrome and other connective tissue disorders, heart failure, electrophysiology or rhythm disorders, and adults with congenital heart disease.
The second way we’ve grown is geographically — we have worked very closely with the pediatric cardiologists across upstate New York to ensure comprehensive pediatric cardiac care to patients across the upstate New York region. Inpatient surgical and more complex catheterization and electrophysiology procedures have been centered here at Golisano Children’s Hospital. This allows children across the upstate New York to take advantage of the only dedicated pediatric cardiac intensive care unit in the region when they need it, while they can continue to receive outpatient care with their cardiologist closer to home.
Can you speak a little more about our expertise? Why should families seek care here?
Well, first, we treat everything. This includes all forms of congenital heart diseases — atrial septal defects, ventricular septal defects, tetralogy of Fallot, transposition of the great arteries, to name a few — as well as lipid disorders, acquired heart diseases like Kawasaki’s syndrome, rheumatic fever and myocarditis, heart rhythm problems, and adults with congenital heart disease.
But it’s our approach to treatment that really differentiates us. At URMC, we are surrounded by pediatric specialists in every field of health, and we take full advantage, as patients at the Children’s Heart Center are treated via a comprehensive, multidisciplinary, team-based approach, often seeing pediatric specialists from several different divisions. This ensures that children with heart ailments — which are often accompanied by other issues — are able to see multiple specialists to ensure they’re getting the best care for all of their needs.
Additionally, as mentioned, even within our division our physicians are highly specialized. Just in the past three years, we’ve added several new cardiologists to our team including Dr. Carol Wittlieb-Weber, who sees patients with heart failure; Dr. Rajiv Devanagondi, an interventional catheterization specialist; Dr. Jeffrey Vinocur, an electrophysiology specialist; and Dr. Michael Joynt, who specializes in treating adults with congenital heart disease. That level of specialization can’t exist without a robust, centralized team.
How has the new children’s hospital enhanced your care?
The new inpatient rooms are wonderful, but what’s really going to affect our division most is what we’re building right now as part of Phase II. We are constructing a brand new pediatric cardiac operating room, where our world-class surgeons, Drs. George Alfieris and Francisco Gensini, will have the most state-of-the-art equipment at their disposal. We’re also building the Clay E. and Rita M. Buzzard Pediatric Cardiac Cath Lab, which is a dedicated pediatric cardiac catheterization suite. Cardiac catheterization procedures are used to diagnose and define cardiac anatomy, gauge the success of surgical treatments, and perform interventional procedures and electrophysiology studies. Having a lab specifically designed for pediatric procedures is going to ensure that our patients get the best possible care. Finally, Phase II includes an expanded 16 bed pediatric cardiac care center. As the only dedicated pediatric cardiac intensive care unit in the upstate region this enhanced capacity will improve our ability to meet the needs of children in the region.
What do you envision for the future?
I’m truly excited for the future. As medicine advances and as our division grows, we’re able to take better care of more children with heart ailments, and give them the best possible chance at a long, happy, and healthy life. That’s why we all got into this line of work.
So in terms of looking forward, I first look backward and see how care has evolved and improved since I began my career as a pediatric cardiologist 26 years ago. During that time there have been remarkable advances in our ability to diagnose and treat congenital heart disease. That really inspires me and I can’t wait to see the things we’ll be able to do 10 or 20 years from now, and beyond.