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UTHealth launches institute to propel pediatric and congenital heart innovation

Jorge D. Salazar, MD (Photo by Maricruz Kwon/UTHealth)
Jorge D. Salazar, MD (Photo by Maricruz Kwon/UTHealth)

The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) is launching a new academic institute to advance clinical care, provide innovative solutions, and improve outcomes for patients of all ages with pediatric and congenital heart defects. 

Formed in close collaboration with Memorial Hermann Health System, the institute will leverage the expertise of faculty within UTHealth’s six schools as well as its medical practice, UT Physicians

“With one out of every 100 births affected by a congenital heart defect, there is a great need for systems designed to provide comprehensive congenital heart care,” said Jorge D. Salazar, MD, professor and chief of the Division of Pediatric and Congenital Heart Surgery, John P. and Kathrine G. McGovern Distinguished Chair, and co-director of the institute at UTHealth. “We are leading internationally in the design and expansion of systems that offer a coordinated, highly personalized continuum of care that begins before a patient is born and lasts throughout their senior years.” 

Physicians in five main clinical specialties – pediatric cardiology, pediatric cardiac critical care, pediatric cardiac anesthesia, adult congenital cardiology, and pediatric and congenital heart surgery – will work in concert to meet the complex needs of each patient. They also will partner with specialists in neonatology, maternal fetal medicine, adult cardiology, and adult cardiac surgery. 

The institute will provide children and adults with congenital heart disease the opportunity to lead a normal life with the highest standards for outcomes. The formation of the institute coincides with ongoing efforts to enhance and expand programs at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital. In addition, the adult congenital cardiology program will expand to include a transition of care program for patients who have reached adulthood and are ready for a seamless transition from pediatric to adult specialists. 

“This is personal for us,” Salazar said. “We are making a lifetime commitment to comprehensive, uninterrupted care for each patient.  We provide each patient the highest level of care, as we would for our own family.” 

Researchers within the institute will work to develop new treatments for patients with both common and complex heart conditions—including those requiring extensive surgical repair. Areas of focus will include tissue engineering and advanced imaging, and will involve close collaborations with experts in bioengineering, biomedical informatics, public health, and statistics. 

As part of the educational mission, the institute will train the next generation of pediatric and congenital heart specialists by offering fellowship programs in pediatric cardiology and pediatric cardiac advanced imaging. It also will expand its pediatric cardiac critical care, pediatric cardiac anesthesia, and adult congenital cardiology fellowships. 

Salazar will serve as co-director with Jon Meliones, MD, and James Polson, DNP. 

“The institute is bringing together the best clinical teams and researchers in the world to improve care of the most critically ill heart patients,” said Meliones, professor of pediatrics and section chief of the Divisions of Pediatric Critical Care Medicine and Pediatric Hospital Medicine. “We are focused, passionate, and driven to achieve the best experience for our patients and families. At the same time, we are rapidly growing the program so we can maximize our impact on children – our future.” 

Partnerships with other centers will extend well beyond the Texas Medical Center to deliver the highest levels of care to patients and families in Texas, nationally, and internationally. 

“We are creating a destination referral institute for the most challenging cases and offering the most innovative solutions,” Salazar said. “At the same time, we are sharing the highly effective model we have developed with other heart centers worldwide and collaborating with referring physicians on their patients’ long-term care.” 

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