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Cardiac Critical Care

Looking Forward: Caring for the Heart and Brain

The Children’s National Medical Center’s Cardiac Intensive Care Unit offers the most advanced care centered around families and healing. The rooms are equipped to monitor vital organs, including the brain, that preserve neurological function and optimize long-term outcomes for patients. Staff have access to diagnostic images and tests in one place, a first for the medical environment through the Paul Francis Baier Comprehensive Media Room.

“Our team is developing new technology that can allow us to safety detect a fetus who is getting into danger as quickly as possible, so that we have a window to intervene, restore function, and ultimately prevent brain injury,” Director of the Fetal Brain Lab Catherine Limperopoulos, PhD, said.

Approximately 40,000 children are born in the United States with a form of congenital heart disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control. In the Cardiac ICU the multidisciplinary team makes it their priority to improve the lives of some of our most vulnerable patients.

Children’s National tries to catch abnormalities like congenital heart disease before a baby is born, using the most cutting edge technology in advanced medicine, such as rapid deployment of Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) and near infrared spectroscopy (NIRS), ensure your child receives the most advanced treatment available for young cardiac patients.

“Our first focus has been on improving survival and the field has been very successful,” Executive Vice President, Chief Medical Officer for Hospital and Specialty Services, David Wessel, MD, said. “Our physicians and researchers here have contributed in seminal ways to the advancement of the field of treating children with congenital heart disease whether it’s our neurologists, cardiac surgeons, our cardiologists, cardiac anesthesiologists, have all made extremely important contributions that have changed the way we care for these children and improve their outcomes.”

Infants diagnosed with a form of congenital heart disease are more vulnerable to problems in brain development. Children’s new, state-of-art Cardiac ICU monitors newborns with congenital heart disease before and after cardiac surgery.

“We’re beyond now just improving outcomes. We’re beyond just having the right physical plant that will set the stage for improved outcomes,” Dr. Wessel said. “We want to improved outcomes not just to apply to the intensive care unit, but for a lifetime.”

Follow my heart program developed by doctors at Children's National
Your Child’s Care Team Physicians certified in both pediatric cardiology and pediatric critical care medicine are joined by a interdisciplinary team composed of intensivists, cardiac anesthesiologists, cardiac Magnet nurses, surgeons, and a dedicated pharmacist, respiratory therapist, and social worker.

Representing the highest standards in excellence for patient care, our Magnet nurses earned a distinguished merit designation, the Beacon Award for Critical Care Excellence, from the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). The award recognizes the nation’s top critical care units across a multitude of hospitals for their commitment to high-quality critical care standards and dedication to the exceptional care of patients and their families.

Children’s National is also the only hospital in the Washington, DC, area that guarantees your child’s anesthesia is administered by a fellowship-trained pediatric anesthesiologist at any time of the day or night.

And when the expertise of Children’s Cardiac ICU team is needed by patients in another location, Children’s medical Transport Team is available to help move children from other hospitals to Children’s National.

Read letter from parents in the Parent Letter ProjectCatherine's Story
Catherine was diagnosed in utero at 17 weeks gestation with hypoplastic left heart syndrome. Catherine’s mom, Kimberly, was referred to Children’s Fetal Heart Program by her obstetrician and was seen that day. At that time Kimberly and her husband Jeffrey met Mary Donofrio, MD, director of the program. “It was very reassuring that she immediately knew what we were facing and was able to provide us with real options. We did research online and were confident in our decision to have our daughter treated at Children’s National.” At just 5 days old, Catherine had her first heart surgery, performed by Pranava Sinha, MD. Catherine will need another surgery in 4-6 months and one other in 2-4 years to correct her heart defect. In the meantime, Catherine receives the benefit of Children’s research in the Cardiac ICU, through studies focused on monitoring her neurodevelopment. “It is comforting to know that the team is treating every aspect of my daughter’s health, not just her heart, but her brain as well.” We encourage you to read letters from other families with a shared experience at the hospital — Read the stories from the Children’s Parent’s Letter Project.

Did you know… All three of our Intensive Care Units (ICUs) received the Beacon Award from the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN)? The PICU and CICU are designated gold-level and honored with a 3-year designation. The NICU is designated silver-level and has a 2-year designation. The Beacon Award signifies exceptional care through improved outcomes and greater overall satisfaction. For our critical care nurses and clinical teams, the Beacon Award means a positive and supportive work environment with greater collaboration between colleagues and leaders, higher morale and lower turnover. Congratulations to all of our caregivers and leadership teams across our Intensive Care Units for working together to meet and exceed the high standards set forth by the Beacon Award for Excellence.

Questions about referral?
Questions and emergent referrals from physicians may be directed to the on-call Cardiac Intensivist by calling the CICU unit at 202-476-6670.

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