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Briony Varda

Q&A with urologist Briony Varda

Briony Varda

Briony Varda, M.D., M.P.H., is fellowship trained in pediatric genitourinary reconstructive surgery and her subspecialty interests include the care of patients with spina bifida and the neurogenic bladder, cloacal anomalies, hydronephrosis, vesicoureteral reflux and posterior urethral valves, among others.

Children’s National Hospital recognizes many urologic disorders and illnesses that are unique to children. As such, we pride ourselves in working with top urology experts, including Briony Varda, M.D., M.P.H., pediatric urologist, who recently joined the Urology Division at Children’s National.

Dr. Varda is fellowship trained in pediatric genitourinary reconstructive surgery and her subspecialty interests include the care of patients with spina bifida and the neurogenic bladder, cloacal anomalies, hydronephrosis, vesicoureteral reflux and posterior urethral valves, among others.

Here, Dr. Varda tells us more about her work and what it means for the future of pediatric urology patients at Children’s National.

Q: Why did you decide to work in this field?

I have always thoroughly enjoyed working with children. They keep you on your toes, tell it straight, make you laugh and demonstrate unique resilience. At the same time, surgery allows me to work with my hands, while being creative and helping others. Finally, I had great mentors within pediatric urology who strongly influenced me in a positive way.

In sum, the kids, the surgery and the people led me here.

Q: What is the importance of urology care?

We have three goals in pediatric urology: protect the kidneys and bladder, prevent infection and help our patients stay dry.

Although it’s usually clear when kids have urinary tract infections or trouble with urinary accidents, it’s not always visible when there is a problem with the kidney or bladder. Urologic care is therefore important because it prevents long-term damage that might otherwise go unnoticed until it is too late. This is particularly true for patients with abnormal functioning of the bladder related to a neurologic cause, such as spina bifida or a tethered spinal cord.

Q: How has the program expanded and what are some of the most valuable changes you hope to see in the next couple of years?

Our Spina Bifida Program currently includes physicians from physical medicine and rehabilitation (PMNR), orthopedics, neurosurgery and urology. Our newest additions include a full-time nurse practitioner who facilitates care coordination and has a clinical expertise in bowel management, two new urologists (myself and Christina Ho, M.D.), and Mi Ran Shin, M.D., who is our new PMNR physician.

We are also collaborating closely with the new Pediatric Colorectal & Pelvic Reconstruction Division for patients who need advanced bowel management. These additions will go a long way to helping improve the day-to-day living of our patients and help improve their long-term medical outcomes.

In the coming year, we are anticipating welcoming another full-time nurse to our program, offering more patient-facing resources including a webpage focused on urodynamics and an array of new patient education materials. We are also hoping to establish a regional transitional care network for our adolescent and young-adult patients.

Q: The Colorectal Program at Children’s National includes three urologists. How does this collaboration allow for the care of more complex cases at this hospital?

We are fortunate to be part of the Colorectal Program here at Children’s National Hospital. We provide subspecialty expertise for patients born with anorectal malformations, including cloacal anomalies and cloacal exstrophy. Although historically considered a general surgery problem, patients with anorectal malformations have a high rate of concomitant conditions affecting their genitourinary anatomy and function. By coordinating clinical care and surgery within a multidisciplinary team, we provide comprehensive care for even the most complex patients – nothing goes unnoticed and each subspecialist provides a unique perspective on management as it relates to their field.  Along with ourselves and the colorectal surgeons, we regularly collaborate with gynecology, gastroenterology, interventional radiology and anesthesia.

Q:  What is some of the research you’re working on now that you’re looking forward to the most?

We are currently designing a set of research projects aimed at investigating low-value healthcare utilization (for example, emergency room use and inappropriate testing) among patients with spina bifida. I plan to investigate institutional patterns and then expand out to the Washington, D.C., Maryland, Virginia area and the national setting. By identifying patterns in low-value healthcare utilization and their associated factors, we can ideally improve care delivery for this special healthcare needs population.

We are also working on institutional protocols to enact recently published guidelines by the Spina Bifida Association and the CDC so that we can eventually contribute our own data to national registries. This will pave the way for increasingly rigorous spina bifida research in the future.

Marc Levitt plays with a patient

Reoperation of anorectal malformation repair restores continence, improves quality of life

Marc Levitt plays with a patient

Dr. Levitt has performed over 10,000 surgeries to address the wide spectrum of problems involving the colon and rectum — more than any other full time practicing pediatric surgeon in the world.

Patients with a previously repaired anorectal malformation (ARM) can suffer from complications which lead to incontinence. Reoperation can improve the anatomic result, but its impact on functional outcomes has previously been unclear.

Marc Levitt, M.D., chief of Colorectal and Pelvic Reconstructive Surgery at Children’s National, and Richard Wood, M.D., chief of Colorectal and Pelvic Reconstruction at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, co-led the study when they worked together in Columbus. They performed a retrospective cohort study, from 2014 to 2019, of patients with a previously repaired ARM who underwent another posterior sagittal anorectoplasty (PSARP) procedure, essentially redoing their first procedure. When results from the initial assessment were compared to 12 months after the redo surgery, they found that patients with fecal incontinence after an ARM repair can, with a reoperation, have their anatomy corrected, restoring continence for many and also improving their quality of life.

The study, published in the Journal of Pediatric Surgery, found that at one-year post-redo operation, 50 percent of the patients were on laxatives only, and 75 percent of those patients were completely continent. Overall, 77 percent of the patients were clean (1 or fewer accident per week) after their redo surgery and complication rates were low. Strictures were the most common complication seen after reoperations, as no dilations were performed, but were easily managed with a minor procedure. Surprisingly, 20 percent of patients with expected poor continence potential became fully continent on a laxative-based regimen after redo surgery. Traditionally, many of these children would not even be offered a redo surgery, given their perceived poor potential for bowel control.

The Division of Colorectal & Pelvic Reconstructive Surgery at Children’s National is the first in the mid-Atlantic region to fully integrate surgery, urology, gynecology and gastroenterology into one cohesive program for children. Dr. Levitt is a world-renowned surgeon who has performed over 10,000 surgeries to address the wide spectrum of problems involving the colon and rectum — more than any other full time practicing pediatric surgeon in the world.

This study shows that redo surgeries are a safe and effective option for patients with fecal incontinence after an anorectal malformation repair. The authors hope that the findings will lead to the ability to help more patients who suffer from complications and/or incontinence after a prior repaired ARM and who can benefit from an improvement in their colorectal anatomy.  After a reoperation, patients can expect to have improved quality of life because the outcome gives them more freedom and less worry about soiling accidents.

To access the full article published in the Journal of Pediatric Surgery click here.

ARM index webinar

Colorectal team presents virtual conference sessions

The 6th Annual Alex Pediatric Surgery Congress and 1st Nile of Hope Hospital Congress conference, in cooperation with Colorectal Team Overseas (CTO), provides updates in colorectal, urogenital disorders and pelvic reconstructions in pediatrics. The Children’s National Hospital colorectal team was due to present at the conference in Alexandria, Egypt, in April 2020, but due to the global COVID-19 pandemic the event was indefinitely postponed. Despite this, Marc Levitt, M.D., Colorectal and Pelvic Reconstructive Surgeon at Children’s National, and Founder and Head of the CTO, presented educational sessions virtually to Egyptian surgeons throughout the month of April.

Anorectal malformation case presentation

Surgeons assemble in a virtual Zoom session for a case presentation on anorectal malformations by Marc Levitt, M.D., and the Children’s National colorectal team.

The video conferences allowed surgeons and experts to come together and foster the global collaboration that benefits colorectal teams and patients worldwide. The first session included 70 pediatric surgeons from Egypt and grew to over 128 attendees in the last session. The presentations spanned a variety of topics and can be accessed at the links below:

Joining Dr. Levitt in the discussion were members of the Children’s National colorectal nursing team, including Julie Choueiki, Program Manager, Justine Garofalo, CPNP, Meghan Mesa, Tara Garbarino, CPNP, and Katherine Worst, CPNP-AC. The integrated Children’s National colorectal team elevates the significance of the nursing role in caring for complex patients. For example, cases in the Bowel Management Program require hours of ongoing nursing care. The team demonstrated the partnership that benefits children when surgeons include and value nursing presence in the care of colorectal patients.

Moving forward, the team will bring continued virtual, telehealth collaboration and education. Doing so will expand the potential for more colorectal patients to receive the care they need.

child writing question marks on chalkboard

Test your knowledge of pediatric colorectal and pelvic reconstructive surgery!


Marc Levitt

Premier pediatric colorectal program opens doors at Children’s National

Marc Levitt

“With the broad range of expertise at Children’s National, including the nation’s best NICU, I’m confident that colorectal patients will get better, integrated care faster and more effectively here than anywhere else in the world,” says Marc Levitt, M.D.

World-renowned surgeon opens first program for care and treatment of colorectal conditions in the mid-Atlantic.

A new, highly-specialized surgical program at Children’s National Hospital is expected to draw patients from around the world. The colorectal surgery program is the first in the mid-Atlantic region to fully integrate surgery, urology, gynecology and gastroenterology into one cohesive program for children. The program is led by Marc Levitt, M.D., an internationally recognized expert in the surgical care and treatment of pediatric colorectal disorders who has performed over 10,000 surgeries to address a wide spectrum of problems involving the colon and rectum – more than any other full time practicing pediatric surgeon in the world.

“In the 25 years that I’ve been passionate about helping children with colorectal and pelvic conditions, I’ve learned that collaborative and integrated programs are the best way to care for them,” says Dr. Levitt. “With the broad range of expertise at Children’s National, including the nation’s best NICU, I’m confident that colorectal patients will get better, integrated care faster and more effectively here than anywhere else in the world.”

The program provides diagnosis and treatment for every type of colorectal disorder occurring in infants, children and adolescents, from the most common to the most complex. Every necessary specialty is integrated into the program in one convenient location to provide seamless care for all colon and rectum conditions, with particular expertise in:

  • Anorectal malformations
  • Cloacal malformations
  • Chronic constipation and fecal incontinence
  • Fecal and urinary incontinence related to spinal conditions such as spina bifida
  • Hirschsprung disease
  • Motility disorders

“Every child receives a customized treatment plan to address his or her unique needs,” Dr. Levitt says about the program. “Additionally, our surgeons often combine complex procedures across specialties to reduce the number of surgeries a child requires. It isn’t unusual for us to include urology, gynecology, and gastroenterology teams in the operating room alongside the colorectal surgeons so multiple issues can be addressed in a single procedure – we know that when possible, fewer surgeries is always better for the child.”

Dr. Levitt has cared for children from 50 states and 76 countries. He is the founder of Colorectal Team Overseas (CTO), a group of international providers who travel to the developing world to provide care for patients and teaching of their physicians and nurses. He co-founded the Pediatric Colorectal and Pelvic Learning Consortium (PCPLC), an organization of collaborating colorectal centers across the globe.

“We’re absolutely thrilled to welcome Marc Levitt and launch the comprehensive colorectal program under his expert leadership,” adds Anthony Sandler, M.D., surgeon-in-chief and vice president of the Joseph E. Robert, Jr., Center for Surgical Care at Children’s National. “There are few in the world who can provide the expertise and leadership in colorectal diagnoses and treatment that Marc brings with him to Children’s. Many children and families from the region and from around the world will benefit from his expertise and from the program in general.”