Ten years of healing hearts

 0CHC1 As Adam and Cassidy Pridgeon prepared for their first child’s arrival, they braced themselves for the heart surgery she would face shortly after her birth. They welcomed their daughter Jessa to the world on Aug. 10.

Baby Jessa was diagnosed in utero with Turner Syndrome — a chromosomal disorder that can cause a congenital heart defect. The medical team at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital referred the Pridgeons to the UF Health Congenital Heart Center at UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital.

UF College of Medicine pediatric cardiologist Jennifer Co-Vu, M.D., examined an anomaly in Jessa’s heart. She discovered that the baby would be born with coarctation of the aorta, also known as a narrowing of the aorta, and a small aortic arch. Four weeks after Jessa’s birth, she underwent corrective surgery in the hands of Mark Bleiweis, M.D., UF College of Medicine transplant surgeon, cardiothoracic surgeon and director for the UF Health Congenital Heart Center, and his team of anesthesiologists, pulmonologists and nurses.

Adam remembers Bleiweis and his team routinely checking on Jessa and his family following the successful operation. For six weeks, the Pridgeons created an expanded family of surgeons, physicians, nurses and hospital staff at the UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital Pediatric Cardiac ICU.

“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.”

Since the Congenital Heart Center was created in 2006, our faculty and staff have treated 2,397 patients. Due to the high volume of pediatric patients with a congenital heart defect, the new Pediatric Cardiac ICU opened in January 2014, increasing the pediatric team’s capacity to care for these patients. The Congenital Heart Center team provides care for patients with the most complex cases that require innovative technologies. These include the Berlin Heart ventricular assist device, Heartware VAD and SynCardia temporary Total Artificial Heart®, which have contributed to the success of the UF Health Shands Transplant Center.

“Over the past 30 years, I have seen the treatment of patients change dramatically,” said Connie Nixon, R.N., UF Health Congenital Heart Center clinical coordinator. “Newborns with a congenital heart defect are being diagnosed before birth and, as a result, kids are getting faster care.”

For five consecutive years our children’s hospital’s cardiology and heart surgery specialty has ranked among the nation’s top 50 in U.S. News & World Report’s annual rankings. The center’s team cares for all patients diagnosed with a congenital heart defect, from unborn babies to adults.

Bleiweis said, “Our team’s diverse background, their compassion for the patients we serve, as well as their dedication toward enhancing the field of pediatric and adult cardiac surgery is what continues to drive the UF Health Congenital Heart Center in the national rankings.”

Nixon added, “The Congenital Heart Center has a team-centered approach to treating patients. When you’re here, you’re family.”