The care teams at Dell Children’s Medical Center at Ascension Seton celebrated the successful open-heart surgery of their 1,000th patient in the summer of 2021. This marked an important milestone for the Texas Center for Pediatric and Congenital Heart Disease at Dell Children’s Medical Center in its first three years of serving the Central Texas community. Now almost five years into caring for the community, the Texas Center for Pediatric and Congenital Heart has performed more than 375 pediatric heart surgeries.
Charles Fraser, MD, executive director of the Institute for Cardiovascular Health and Chief of Pediatric and Congenital Heart Surgery at the Texas Center for Pediatric and Congenital Heart Disease is both the surgeon who performed the procedure and the founder of the Texas Center for Pediatric and Congenital Heart Disease. The Texas Center for Pediatric and Congenital Heart Disease is a collaboration between Dell Children’s Medical Center and Ascension Seton and UT Health Austin, the clinical practice of Dell Medical School at the University of Texas at Austin.
The Texas Center for Pediatric and Congenital Heart Disease is the only pediatric program in Central Texas offering comprehensive heart care for newborns to adolescent children. The program earned a distinguished three-star rating from The Society of Thoracic Surgeons (STS) for its patient care and outcomes in congenital heart surgery. The three-star rating, which denotes the highest category of quality, places the Texas Center for Pediatric and Congenital Heart Disease among the elite for congenital heart surgery in the United States and Canada.
Dr. Fraser reflected on how far the Texas Center for Pediatric and Congenital Heart Disease has come and expressed his gratitude for the trust of the patients and families it serves:
The 1,000th open-heart surgery milestone was achieved in a very short period of time. What is the reason for the Texas Center for Pediatric and Congenital Heart Disease’s rapid success?
Dr. Fraser: We believed that the program would grow. Central Texas has experienced exponential growth over the last decade, and there were a lot of children and families who were having to leave this region to go seek the sort of care they needed. It stands to reason that if you offer something people really believe in, they will come. We have operated on patients from all over the state of Texas and many other states, including both coasts. We’re not risk-averse when it comes to complicated cases. The word gets out that a center is willing to take on the most complicated cases.
Why did you establish the Texas Center for Pediatric and Congenital Heart Disease at Dell’s Children Medical Center?
Dr. Fraser: It was a multifactorial convergence of opportunity and vision. It certainly was not my singular vision. In 1991, I was a fellow in Melbourne, Australia, in a program that was, without any question, the best program in the world at the time. What I saw there was a team of individuals completely and singularly focused on the best outcomes for patients and families. Now, a lot of institutions talk about that, but very few actually achieve it. We knew it was needed and there was an opportunity in Central Texas to take on some of the challenges that other centers haven't been able to move the needle on. We’re gratified by the realization of the vision.
How do your clinical partnerships inform care at the Texas Center for Pediatric and Congenital Heart Disease?
Dr. Fraser: The integrated relationship between Dell Medical School at The University of Texas, UT Health Austin, Dell Children's Medical Center and Ascension Texas is paramount when it comes to delivering optimized care. When you have a constant infusion of questioning minds and people looking to challenge the status quo, you're by definition going to be better every single day. It starts with the [medical] students, who ask us really hard questions. That sets up an environment of constant tenacious pursuit of the truth. It's infectious and relentless. The sky’s the limit on the types of relationships you can develop.
What makes the Texas Center for Pediatric and Congenital Heart Disease distinct?
Dr. Fraser: We have attracted an extraordinary group of people, I think the most committed, cohesive, mutually respectful group I’ve ever worked with anywhere. Everybody has a place at the table and participates in the successes and the derivation of solutions for problems. I've never experienced anything like this.
The other core premise that brought us here is the segmented approach to healthcare we continue to see. When you think about a child with congenital heart disease, unfortunately what they and their families face is a lifetime of very confusing care realities. We have endeavored to understand what the journey is like for patients and families. We try to develop rapid cycle improvement opportunities so we can help them on their journey.
What type of research is currently being conducted at the Texas Center for Pediatric and Congenital Heart Disease?
Dr. Fraser: We’re really trying to examine in a granular fashion a new approach to objective outcomes measures that are important to patients and families. Historically, the performance of programs in our specialty is confined to mortality and morbidity. If you think about it from the standpoint of someone with a baby with congenital heart disease, the questions are basic: What is life going to be like? Will my child go to school? Will they be intellectually on par with their peers? By and large we can’t answer those questions.
We've had young people who have told us that they didn't make any plans beyond high school because they heard somewhere when they were a little kid that they wouldn't live to be in college. That gets to be part of their world and, well, that's not acceptable. We think that's a really important avenue of research, which we call health transformation. We develop programs where we design, implement and measure new strategies. Our goal is to relieve pain and suffering, restore health and provide people the best opportunity for the best life. That's the essence of our research endeavors.
What would you like referring physicians to know about the Texas Center for Pediatric and Congenital Heart Disease?
Dr. Fraser: We want them to know that we don't claim perfection, but we do claim transparency: that is our commitment to our referring doctor community, to our patients and families and to ourselves. [The Texas Center for Pediatric and Congenital Heart Disease] is a very personal, nurturing, patient- and family-centric environment. We do not seek to be the biggest program or the biggest hospital. We seek to be the most patient- and family-responsive. That is our passionate commitment. We want families to walk in here and feel that it’s calm, that it's comforting, that it's compassionate and that we’re responsive to their needs. And they're not having to negotiate this journey for themselves.
Connect your patients to a leader in pediatric heart care
Connect your patients to doctors and care teams at Ascension Seton and Dell Children’s who have the right expertise to care for their needs. Your patients and their families can expect compassionate care from the moment we receive your call. Our specialists start by listening to understand each patient to develop a personalized care plan. If you have a pediatric patient who is exhibiting signs of or has been diagnosed with heart failure, please call 512-324-0091 to speak with a scheduling charge nurse. Our heart care team is ready to assist you in getting your patients the specialized care that they need.