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Each year, approximately 1% of babies in the U.S. are born with a congenital heart defect (CHD). If your child has a CHD, he may need surgery within the first few years—or even days—of his life. Other children may not require surgery until years later.

At the Children's Healthcare of Atlanta Heart Center, our team of surgeons are leaders in pediatric cardiothoracic surgery, using the latest proven operative techniques and extensive research. In 2020, our center performed 910 heart surgeries, including some of the most complex, with excellent outcomes.

Our comprehensive team of cardiac surgeons, pediatric cardiologists, cardiac anesthesiologists, cardiac nurses, respiratory therapists and pediatric advanced practice providers understand children—not just their hearts—from infancy through young adulthood, and make it a priority to help them get well.

At the Heart Center, we are here to care for our patients during their heart surgeries and procedures, while also providing support to their families.

The Heart Center team performs hundreds of heart procedures each year. Our volumes, which are based on cardiac procedures and the number of cardiothoracic surgeries performed during the last four years, can be found here. In 2020, the Heart Center performed 910 cardiac surgeries, 14 heart transplants and 1,034 catheterization lab visits. Additionally, the electrophysiology team performed 149 ablations, implanted 42 pacemakers and cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs), and managed 359 patients in our Pacemaker Clinic in 2020.

Pediatric heart defects that require surgery include:

With excellent survival rates that are above the national average, you can trust your child's heart with our heart surgeons because they are experienced in treating and repairing complex heart defects and conditions. At the Heart Center, some of the procedures our team performs include:

  • Arterial switch: The arterial switch procedure is an open heart surgery that switches an improperly connected pulmonary artery and aorta back to the correct location. The procedure may be used for transposition of the great arteries or other forms of heart disease in which the great arteries are rotated incorrectly.
  • Glenn and Fontan procedures: The Glenn and Fontan procedures are done to redirect blood flow because one of the two ventricles cannot pump blood effectively. It may be weak, small or missing altogether. The Glenn and Fontan procedures allow blood to be routed directly to the lungs, leaving the working ventricle to pump blood to the body.
  • Heart transplant: A heart transplant is an open heart surgery done for a child when his own heart muscle becomes too weak to pump enough blood through his body. A heart transplant replaces a diseased heart with a donor heart. The donor heart works as a normal heart should—pumping blood to the body and lungs.
  • Norwood procedure: The Norwood procedure is the first in a series of three open heart surgeries performed on children with HLHS and other variants of single ventricle heart defects in which the left heart structures do not develop properly.
  • Ross procedure: The Ross procedure replaces a narrowed or leaky aortic valve. First, the surgeon takes out the defective aortic valve and replaces it with the patient's pulmonary valve. The new aortic valve allows the left ventricle to pump oxygen-rich blood to the body. The pulmonary valve is then replaced with a pulmonary valve from a deceased donor, which allows oxygen-poor blood to flow from the right ventricle into the pulmonary artery to the lungs.
  • Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO): An ECMO is a procedure in which a machine outside of the body takes over the work of your child's heart and/or lungs to allow them to rest and recover.
  • Intra-aortic balloon pump
  • Device implantation

Our family-centered approach to your child's heart care encourages families and patients to partner with our cardiothoracic surgery team. We want parents to feel comfortable asking questions, touring the facility prior to admission and participating in family-centered rounds.

Parents are updated by our operating room staff at the beginning of any surgical procedure and every one to two hours thereafter. Once the procedure is completed, a member of our surgery waiting room front desk will escort you to a consult room, where the surgeon will give you details about your child's procedure.

In pediatrics, family-centered care is based on the understanding that the family is a child's primary source of strength and support. This approach to care recognizes that the information provided by families, children and young adults is an essential component of high-quality clinical decision-making and that patients and families are integral partners with our healthcare team.

Parents are encouraged to attend and participate in medical rounds because this is a great opportunity to ask questions and have their opinions heard. Our team begins by reviewing a child's medical history, as well as important events or issues from the past 24 hours. Rounds are a time for the medical team to review information about each child in our Cardiac Intensive Care Unit (CICU). Rounds begin at 7 a.m. on weekdays and 8 a.m. on weekends. During this time, a staff member will ask parents what questions they have.

Our team reviews each child's current medicines, vital signs, lab values, chest X-rays and other important information. They make a medical plan of care for the next 24 hours for your child. This is a time for parents to ask our medical team any questions they may have.

Children's understands that having a child in the hospital can be a stressful and difficult time for every family. Our family support team includes social workers, psychologists, chaplains, child life specialists and family experience liaisons who can help navigate emotional, financial, familial and spiritual challenges you may encounter during your child's time in the hospital.

The Fetal Cardiology Program provides complete consultative services for parents who have an unborn child with suspected or known heart problems.

Children's provides resources to assist patients and/or their families that have an emergent financial need due to a patient's healthcare status. The goal of the Children's Assistance Program is to connect patients and families to community resources that can assist with their financial needs. Children's also offers a number of options and services for paying for your child's hospital bill. Financial counselors are available to screen for Georgia Medicaid eligibility, as well as to assist families with the application process. Applications for financial assistance with medical bills are available through our financial counseling office.

Our social workers provide emotional support during your child's admission and can refer you to further counseling and support. They are knowledgeable about financial and community resources and connect families with resources that are available. Social workers also assist with lodging and transportation needs and can provide school and work excuses.

Certified child life specialists provide developmentally appropriate interventions, like therapeutic play, that help reduce fear, anxiety and pain for children of all ages. These specialists have received education and training in the developmental impact of illness and injury.

The chaplains at Children's are trained to respond to the spiritual needs of pediatric patients in the hospital setting, as well as to provide support and guidance to patients and families as they seek healing, meaning and hope in the face of illness or injury. Chaplains are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Our Cardiac Neuropsychology Program provides mental health support to our cardiac patients. Our lead cardiac psychologist oversees inpatient screening and treatment of medically related trauma and stress in patients and families. In addition, outpatient screenings are conducted to assess developmental skills for infants and toddlers with congenital heart defects. It is important to treat developmental issues early on. Our neuropsychologists can create a plan to help your child develop necessary communication, thought and motor skills.

Family experience liaisons visit all newly admitted patients each day to discuss hospital services. They share basic education on patient rooms, units, services that Children's offers, parking and cafeteria-related questions. During your child's hospital stay, the liaison is a resource to help coordinate needs for you. He or she may connect patients, families and visitors to a variety of support services available at Children's, as well as advocate for the needs of patients, families and visitors during their stay at Children's.

In addition, Children's offers family-centered support programs for families while they are in our care and in the community.

Sponsored by the Heart Center, Kids at Heart offers parents, families and caregivers of kids with congenital heart defects a chance to come together and share their experiences.

We believe it is important that every child feels special, and a child with congenital or acquired heart defects is no different. At Camp Braveheart, we promote positive self-esteem with fun and learning. This summer camp is for children and teens that have heart conditions or have undergone a heart transplant. We give every child between the ages of 7 and 17 a chance to experience camp, build friendships and make memories to last a lifetime.

Cardiac clinical nurses serving on the Patient Family Advisory Council and parents serving on the Cardiac Family Advisory Council created Feed the Heart to provide weekly meals for heart patients and their families.

Upon admission to the Heart Center, babies from birth to 12 months old will receive a bag containing two age-appropriate books so that family members and caretakers can begin reading to them.

Reading to infants and babies is critical to their neurodevelopment and helps them build communication, listening and memory skills at an early age. By the time babies reach their first birthdays, they will have learned all the sounds needed to speak their native language. The more stories you read aloud, the more words your baby will hear, which will help improve your child's speaking abilities.

Your child's life expectancy and their need for additional heart interventions are closely related to your child's heart anatomy and the type of heart repair that is needed. Some children may also have other health challenges that are unrelated to their heart defects.

Overall, the outcomes of children with heart defects have improved dramatically over the past 20 years. Children typically go on to live full, meaningful lives. However, some children with congenital heart defects experience developmental and learning differences and may benefit from extra help to succeed in school, social relationships and future employment. Be sure to talk with your doctors if you think your child is not developing important skills or is experiencing other problems that raise concern. Our team of cardiac neuropsychologists are available to assess your child's needs and create an individualized learning plan for your child.

At the Heart Center, our cardiothoracic surgery team is dedicated to the well-being and care of children of all ages—birth to age 21—who have been diagnosed with a congenital heart defect. Each of our heart surgeons is certified by the American Board of Thoracic and Cardiac Surgery with a subspecialty in congenital cardiothoracic surgery.

Cardiothoracic surgeons

Cardiac anesthesiologists

Meet Our Heart Surgeons