UK begins Pediatric Heart Surgery Program with Cincy Children’s

Last month, UK HealthCare and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center completed the first heart surgery as part of a new partnership to provide outstanding pediatric cardiac services for patients in Kentucky and beyond.

The Joint Pediatric Heart Surgery Program is the culmination of three years of work by the two organizations and was announced on Friday. The “one program, two sites” model combines the strengths of UK HealthCare’s advanced subspecialty care with one of the country’s leaders in children’s healthcare, Cincinnati Children’s.

Dr. James Quintessenza, a renowned pediatric cardiothoracic surgeon, was recruited to lead the program. Quintessenza arrived in the Bluegrass last December after having built a reputation as one of the leading cardiothoracic surgeons in the U.S.  He had served at All Children’s Hospital (later named All Children’s Hospital Johns Hopkins) in St. Petersburg, Fla., for 26 years, including 19 years as medical director and chief of pediatric cardiac surgery.

“I’ve found that in Lexington, we have a team of people who are dedicated, caring, experienced and striving to provide the highest-quality care possible for these patients and their families,” said Quintessenza, who is often referred to as “Dr. Q” by patients and staff.

“Pediatric open-heart surgeries, heart catheterizations and electrophysiology procedures are underway at Kentucky Children’s Hospital. The patients and families have been so supportive and thankful for the care we are providing that allows them to receive care closer to their home, their families and their support system.”

Successful surgery

On July 5, Quintessenza performed a complex open-heart surgery on Magdalen Wilson, an infant from Nicholasville, Ky., born with several congenital heart defects.

Magdalen’s surgery was completed at KCH as part of the joint program with Cincinnati Children’s. After Magdalen’s parents, Lauren and Thom Wilson, met with UK pediatric cardiologist Dr. Majd Makhoul and Dr. Q, they felt comfortable and confident in receiving their care at KCH.

“We were impressed that several of Dr. Q’s support staff followed him from his previous location because of his leadership and surgical outcomes,” Thom Wilson said. “At this point, through much prayer and discernment, we decided to pursue Magdalen’s surgery with the joint program at UK.”

With the institution of the “one program, two sites” model, patients from Kentucky now have the opportunity to have surgical procedures, diagnostics and therapeutic interventions performed in Lexington. At all times, recommendations for care are based on what is best for patient safety and quality, allowing families to stay closer to home when appropriate.

“Every member of the joint heart program team – which includes more than 100 physicians, nurses, technicians and other specially trained staff – has one main goal and one agenda, and that is to provide the best care possible to our patients,” said Bo Cofield, UK HealthCare’s chief clinical operations officer. “It was very important for our patients and their families that we do everything we can to provide the highest-quality services and care, and we are confident we have that ability with this program.”

Building a world-class program

UK HealthCare officials voluntarily made the decision to pause pediatric cardiothoracic services in 2012, and a task force was charged with providing recommendations regarding the future of the program. Eventually a Letter of Intent was signed with Cincinnati Children’s in 2015, and an agreement was finalized in September 2016.

While UK HealthCare was working toward the goal of restarting a program to perform complex surgical procedures for pediatric heart patients, it was paramount to be able to deliver the highest-quality services. These standards led to the decision to partner with Cincinnati Children’s, recently ranked third among the nation’s pediatric hospitals by U.S. News and World Report.

Other key components vital in resuming pediatric heart surgeries have been the recruitment and hiring of a world-class team including pediatric cardiac anesthesia, pediatric cardiac critical care, pediatric perfusion, specialized physician assistants and advanced practice nurse practitioners, among others. UK HealthCare has invested in infrastructure enabling success through telehealth and other technologies, specialized equipment and supplies, while staff and faculty have participated in intense on-site training at Cincinnati Children’s.

“Today, this program represents the culmination of three years of work between Cincinnati Children’s and the University of Kentucky to reopen the pediatric cardiac surgical program in Lexington,” said Dr. Andrew Redington, executive co-director of the Heart Institute and chief of the Division of Pediatric Cardiology at Cincinnati Children’s. “By establishing a ‘one program, two sites’ collaboration, we ensure that children will get the right operation, in the right place and at the right time. We are all delighted that the first cases have done well, and anticipate ongoing success in the years to come.”

For the Wilsons, everyone in the family is able to breathe a little easier these days, and Magdalen is enjoying her freedom and health, her mother said. She is being cared for locally by Makhoul since being discharged after her surgery.

“Great love has been shown to Magdalen and our family along this journey,” Lauren Wilson said. “Magdalen’s life is a blessing, and one day she will know about the many hands and hearts at Kentucky Children’s Hospital and beyond that God used to restore her to health. We are truly grateful.”


Next steps:

  • The Joint Pediatric Heart Program provides the full spectrum of high-quality heart care – from assessment and diagnosis to complex surgery and post-surgical care. Learn more about the partnership.
  • Mackenzee Walters was diagnosed with hereditary pancreatitis, a painful condition that had taken the lives of several of her loved ones. Specialists at KCH and Cincinnati Children’s teamed up to help Mackenzee find relief from her painful disease. Read her story.