Angie's LIST Guide to
Pediatric cardiac surgery

Pediatric cardiac surgery, also known as pediatric heart surgery, is a surgical procedure and care for infants, children and teens who require surgery for a variety of heart conditions and issues.


Photo collage of babies and doctors.
Children often are diagnosed with illnesses and conditions that affect adults, but because of their special needs, they are often referred to pediatric specialists. Specialists in all areas can provide treatment plans to improve health and quality of life.

What a pediatric heart surgeon treats

Pediatric heart surgeons offer surgeries and corrections for a variety of cardiac medical conditions, ranging from holes in the heart chamber, irregular blood vessels and any valve issues. Additionally, pediatric heart surgeons repair heart injuries, regulate heart defects and perform heart and lung transplants.

Pediatric heart surgeons typically perform many types of surgeries, with the following being most widely done:

• The Norwood procedure consists of three surgeries that help reroute blood flow to the heart.

• The Ross procedure treats aortic valve problems.

• Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) is a procedure performed when an infant or child's heart and lungs operate as if outside the body.

• Heart transplantations require open-heart surgery and are replace a failing heart with a donor heart.

Pediatric heart surgeons usually practice with other specialists on their team, such as pediatric cardiologists, intensive care specialists and heart anesthesiologists. They work closely with pediatric cardiologists in particular, who help the surgeons by diagnosing heart issues and constructing a safe medical plan for before and after the surgical procedure.

Pediatric heart surgeons work in children's hospitals and medical facilities that are equipped to handle the medical needs of young patients.

Parents or loved ones should always seek competent, professionally licensed and accredited surgeons. You can do this by checking out your state's medical directories and your health insurance company's directory and by researching and reading member reviews and ratings on Angie's List.

Pediatric cardiac surgeon training

To practice pediatric heart surgery, pediatric heart surgeons must have completed at least four years of medical school at an accredited college and a five-year general residency program, specializing in surgery. Additionally, pediatric heart surgeons must complete a two- to three-year heart and chest residency program with a mandated six-month training course in pediatric heart surgery. Pediatric heart surgeons also must have two to four years of additional training, specializing in pediatric heart surgery.

After training, pediatric heart surgeons have to spend the next few years as a staff member at a major pediatric heart medical center or hospital, where they practice and receive extensive training in a specialized area of pediatric surgery, such as neonatal, prenatal or trauma. This requirement enables the surgeons to gain extra experience caring for children, and more in-depth knowledge of their specialty. Afterward, pediatric heart surgeons must take and pass both a written and oral examination. The tests will decide whether they can handle a variety of cardiac surgical situations on infants, children and teens. Before they can take the examinations, however, they must become board-certified in surgery.

Pediatric heart surgery success

Typically, the success rates of children who survive heart surgery and go on to grow and thrive are extremely high. But these rates depend on the type of surgery and procedure's level of complexity.

With the extensive training and education requirements that pediatric heart surgeons must complete before caring for the medical needs of children, parents and loved ones can rest assured that their children are in good hands with an accredited and licensed pediatric heart surgeon. As scientists work to advance, investigate and develop new surgical procedures for children, the chances of successful surgeries continue to increase.

According to a study performed by the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, patients who undergo an arterial switch operation during 2007 to 2010 had a zero percent mortality rate, and patients who underwent an arterial switch operation combined with ventricular septal defect repair had only a 4 percent mortality rate during the same years. According to the same study, a mortality rate of 11 percent for the Norwood procedure was the highest. This process consists of patients undergoing several surgeries for single ventricle heart problems, aortic problems and defects.

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Michael Egan

Subject: Pediatric Cardiac Surgery

Very informative and interesting. Pediatric Heart Surgery training is a valuable asset to have.

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