Tag Archive for: pediatric surgery

Everyone Poops Book Cover

2022: Pediatric colorectal and pelvic reconstructive surgery today

Everyone Poops book coverAdapted from Levitt MA. New and exciting advances in pediatric colorectal and pelvic reconstructive surgery – 2021 update. Semin Pediatr Surg. 2020 Dec;29(6):150992.

As demonstrated in the popular children’s book by Taro Gomi, Everyone Poops, the physiology of stooling is a focus of early childhood development and a subject of concern for both parents and children. References to pediatric colorectal problems go back many thousands of years. In fact, the Babylonian Talmud, written in the year 200 CE, recommends that “an infant whose anus is not visible should be rubbed with oil and stood in the sun… and where it shows transparent the area should be torn crosswise with a barley grain.” Surgical techniques to manage such patients have certainly evolved since that time, but the basic principles of care remain the same.

How we got here

The modern story of the care of patients with anorectal malformations (ARMs) began in the 1940s in Melbourne, Australia, when Henry Douglas Stephens worked to define the anatomy of children with ARMs by analyzing the anatomy of twelve deceased patients with these conditions. He continued to focus on this specialty for the rest of his career and published two books on the topic in 1963 and 1971. Prior to his groundbreaking work, the anatomy of such patients was only a concept that existed in surgeons’ minds – without anatomic precision – since no one had actually seen the anatomy. These concepts were depicted in the bible of pediatric surgery in North America, the Gross textbook, which in retrospect was both oversimplified and inaccurate.

During his autopsy dissections, Stephens came to the key anatomic conclusion that the puborectalis muscle (the sphincters) lay behind the urethra. He devised an operation based on this concept: first, the urethra was identified, then a space between it and the puborectalis was dissected, and then the rectosigmoid was pulled through that space. A small incision in the perineum for the pulled-through bowel was made, within which the new anus was created. The perineal dissection was a blind maneuver. During the same time period, William Kiesewetter in Pittsburgh proposed his version of the sacral abdominoperineal pull-through using similar anatomic principles.

Justin Kelly was one of Stephens’ trainees in Australia who learned how to do this operation. At Boston Children’s Hospital in the late 1960’s, he taught what he had learned from Stephens to the surgeons there, including another trainee, Alberto Pena. Pena and his fellow surgical residents benefitted from exposure to Kelly as well as master surgeon Hardy Hendren, who operated on patients across town at Massachusetts General Hospital. Hendren, the pioneer in the care of children with cloacal anomalies, passed away this year at the age of 96.

Pena completed his training in Boston and went to Mexico City in 1972 at the age of 34 to become the head of surgery at the National Pediatric Institute. He tells the story that when he asked his new pediatric surgery faculty to choose an area of specialization, no one chose colorectal, so he decided to take on that group of patients and thus embarked on his revolutionary colorectal career. Pena at first applied the technique he had learned from Kelly to repair anorectal malformations, but he became increasingly frustrated by the procedure. He felt that the maneuvers offered very poor exposure to the anatomy, and over time his incision grew longer and longer. In 1980, Pena’s collaboration with Pieter de Vries – who had come to Mexico City to work on these cases with Pena – culminated in the first posterior sagittal anorectoplasty [Figure 1]. That same year, Pena presented his findings at a meeting of the Pacific Association of Pediatric Surgeons.

imperforate anus repair

Figure 1: Original diagrams of the posterior sagittal approach to repair imperforate anus

This posterior sagittal approach opened a beneficial Pandora’s Box in surgery. It allowed for a true understanding of the pelvic anatomy and led to the care of many conditions that were previously – to use Pena’s words – “too difficult to reach from above (via laparotomy) and too difficult to reach from below (perineally).” This new approach influenced the repair of cloacal malformations, urogenital sinus, pelvic tumors, urethral problems, reoperations for imperforate anus and Hirschsprung disease (HD), a transpubic approach for complex genitourinary problems, and a comprehensive strategy for the management of cloacal exstrophy. In addition to his surgical contributions, Pena also conceived of the intervention that has arguably improved patients’ quality of life the most: a focused approach to the bowel management of fecal incontinence. Thanks to such bowel management programs, now available at many centers across the world, thousands of children are no longer wearing diapers and have said goodbye to their stomas. The impact of bowel management is perhaps comparable to that of intermittent catheterization for patients with urinary incontinence.

My personal journey in this field began in 1992, when I was an eager medical student and signed up for an elective in pediatric surgery with Alberto Pena. This experience changed my career trajectory in a very dramatic and positive way. Medicine was becoming increasingly complex, and fields such as neonatal care, transplantation, and cardiology were benefitting from a collaborative approach. It became clear that the colorectal field needed the same approach. As a comparative example, consider the project of building a bridge. How does such a project start? The cement layers do not show up one day and lay cement prior to the steel team deciding where to place the beams. The project must begin with all parties meeting together to develop a comprehensive plan. Amazingly, however, that type of collaborative planning does not often happen in the care of medically complex patients. It most assuredly needs to.

The value of multi-disciplinary care

Medical complexity requires integrated and collaborative care because all the anatomic structures that need to be managed are located right next to each other and because each has a unique and complex physiology that can affect the other systems. To achieve success, patients with anorectal malformations, Hirschsprung disease, fecal incontinence (related to a variety of conditions), and colonic motility disorders require care from a variety of specialists throughout their lives. These include providers in the fields of colorectal surgery, urology, gynecology, gastroenterology, motility, orthopedics, neurosurgery, anesthesia, pathology, radiology, psychology, social work, nutrition, and many others. Perhaps most important to the achievement of a good functional result, however, is a patient’s connection to superb nursing care. A complex colorectal operation takes about four hours to perform, but to get a good result, it takes an additional 96 hours of work, the vast majority of which involves nursing care. The value of good nursing partners to ensure successful surgery cannot be overemphasized. They have unique skills in identifying and solving problems, a willingness to get down in the weeds, and are always striving to fill the gaps in care.

What parents want and need

Having met many parents with newborns diagnosed with colorectal problems, I have made several observations. First, it seems that no parent has ever imagined that their child could have a problem with stooling – this is a physiologic ability that is taken for granted. When they are told about the problem with their baby, they are uniformly shocked that something like this could happen. Second, when discussing that their child will need surgery to correct their colorectal anatomy, parents don’t focus on the surgical technique and elegance of the reconstruction, as surgeons tend to do. Instead, parents dwell on whether the surgery will create a working reconstructed anatomy that will allow their child to stool without difficulty or embarrassing accidents. As surgeons we need to remember this. We always need to understand what it is that the family and patient wishes us to deliver, and we need to strive to achieve those goals. As proud of our surgical skills as we are, it is the functional outcome that matters most.

Where we are in 2022

In 2022, the advances in the field of pediatric colorectal and pelvic reconstruction are significant. They include new techniques and ideas that over time have made a dramatic and positive impact on the care and quality of life of children who suffer from colorectal problems. Here are a few such advances:

  1. Prenatal diagnosis of anorectal and cloacal malformations has been progressively improving. Perinatologists have learned to look for specific findings, such as a pelvic mass in a female with a single kidney, and consider that it could be a cloaca. Assessment of perineal anatomy, pubic bone integrity, sacral development, abnormalities of the radius bone, as well as cardiac, spinal, and renal anomalies may lead the clinician to consider that a fetus may have an anorectal malformation.
  2. Management of the newborn, particularly in the fields of newborn radiology and neonatal care, has dramatically improved as neonatal techniques have advanced. Specific to the colorectal patient have been advances in radiology such as assessments of hydronephrosis, 3D reconstruction of cloacal anomalies, and ultrasound-guided distal colostography. Further advances include improved techniques in the management of hydrocolpos and stoma care, to name a few.
  3. The treatment of associated urologic anomalies has diminished chronic renal disease, and proactive bladder management is reducing the need for bladder augmentations and renal transplantation.
  4. Understanding the gynecologic collaboration has helped clinicians define the Mullerian anatomy and better plan for menstruation and future obstetric potential.
  5. Prediction of continence, even in the newborn period, requires an understanding of the associated problems with the sacrum and spine. This knowledge has allowed clinicians to have more robust conversations with families about their child’s future.
  6. The decision of whether to do a newborn repair versus a colostomy must be guided by the surgeon’s experience and the clinical circumstances in which they find themselves.
  7. The defining of anatomy allows patients to be compared across medical centers, and for treatment options and outcomes to be uniformly analyzed. Keeping track of one’s outcomes and always striving to improve should be basic tenets of surgical practice.
  8. Recognizing the value of laparoscopy and knowing for which cases this approach should be applied. Morbidities associated with a laparoscopic approach for a rectum in an ARM patient well below the peritoneal reflection have been noted. In HD cases, laparoscopy can limit the stretching of the sphincters which occurs during the transanal rectal dissection.
  9. Development of a treatment algorithm for the management of cloacal malformations which considers the importance of their common channel and urethral lengths.
  10. Recognizing key complications after ARM and Hirschsprung surgery, knowing when and how to do a reoperation, determining the outcomes of such reoperations, and ultimately figuring out how to avoid complications altogether.
  11. Understanding the causes of fecal incontinence, the amount of incontinence that can be anticipated, and the surgical contributors to achieving continence.
  12. Development of bowel management programs in multiple centers and committing to following these patients in the long term.
  13. Learning the pathophysiology of motility disorders and developing treatment protocols, as a result of the vital collaboration between surgery and GI/motility. Medical treatments with laxatives, rectal enemas, botox injection of the anal canal, and surgical adjuncts such as antegrade colonic flush options and sometimes colon resections are key aspects of the treatment armamentarium.
  14. Developing a collaboration between colorectal surgery and urology allows the clinical team to know when the colon can be used for a bladder augment (which not only offers an augment option but also can improve antegrade flushes of the colon) or if the appendix can be shared between Malone and Mitrofanoff. The collaboration with urology to plan the management of both urinary and fecal continence during the same operation is a very valuable trend. This proactive planning has improved the lives of many patients and has reduced the numbers of operations they need as well as their hospital stays.
  15. Sacral Nerve Stimulation (SNS) has shown promise in the management of urinary incontinence and seems to have a role in improving fecal continence and promoting motility, as an adjunct to treatments for constipation.
  16. Development of dedicated colorectal centers that are integrated and collaborative allows a team to tabulate their results and strive for better outcomes. The value of a collaborative model for the care of such patients cannot be overstated, not only for patient convenience, but also for creating an integrated plan for their care. These exist now in many parts of the country and care is available in nearly every region, reducing a family’s need to travel great distances away from their home to access care.
  17. Establishing a transition to adult programs, as with congenital heart disease and cystic fibrosis. Colorectal surgeons are obligated to develop a transition plan for their patients as they enter adulthood.
  18. Using Basic Science to advance the field, including tissue engineering and genetics, will be revolutionary. We should be able to imagine the day when cloacal reconstruction could be based on a previously tissue-engineered segment of vagina, produced by the patient’s own stem cells. In addition, the genetics of anorectal malformations as well as Hirschsprung disease are being vigorously pursued which will impact parental counseling and potential therapies.
  19. Real time data used to follow outcomes is needed to keep track of complications as well. That information can be used to adjust protocols which will improve results.
  20. Development of international consortiums will help patients in a way that is not achievable by a single institution. Consortiums allow ideas to be spread rapidly which will dramatically affect how many patients can be helped and how quickly. The Pediatric Colorectal and Pelvic Learning Consortium, pcplc.org, is well on its way to achieving these goals.
  21. Bringing complex care to all corners of the world because there is a great deficiency in advanced colorectal care in the developing world. The care of colorectal patients in a resource-limited setting has unique challenges, but creative solutions by innovative surgeons in those areas have a led to dramatic improvements in care.
  22. Parent/patient organizations provide education, advocacy, and support for families at all stages of their child’s care. With internet access readily available, colorectal patients and their families can now access the welcoming environment of these organizations, and no longer feel as lost and alone as in previous years.

Why it matters

Given all these wonderful advances, we must continue to reaffirm the key principles stated by Sir Dennis Browne that “the aim of pediatric surgery is to set a standard, not to seek a monopoly.” With an integrated approach to the care of this complex group of patients, great things can be achieved. I am hopeful that the caregivers and parent/patient group organizations who commit to the care of children with colorectal problems and understand the daily struggle of improving a patient’s quality of life will learn the skills and tricks necessary to achieve good results. If they do, they will help many children.

Finally, I will share a humorous piece written by my daughter, Jess Levitt, regarding the value of bringing order to chaos. Its message is particularly relevant to the care of children with colorectal problems in 2022, as we build on our efforts to improve, streamline, and transform the formerly chaotic process through collaboration and education. As we endeavor to advance this field, we need to remember what Dr. Pena often said: “It is not the unanswered questions, but rather the unquestioned answers that one must pursue.”

“A” must come before “B,” which must come before “C,” everybody knows that. But what if the Millercamps of this world did not have to sit next to the Millerchips when it comes to seating arrangements? Can Pat Zawatsky be called before Jack Aaronson when the teacher is taking attendance? Do those 26 letters that make up all the dialogue, signs, thoughts, books, and titles in the English-speaking department of the world need their specific spots in line? Everyone can sing the well-known jingle from A to Z, but not many people can tell you why the alphabet is the way it is.

For almost as long as humans have had the English language, they have had the alphabet. The good ol’ ABCs. However, the alphabet represents the human need for order and stability. I believe that the same thinking that went into the construct of time and even government went into the alphabet. Justifiably, lack of order leads to chaos. Knife-throwing, gun-shooting chaos, in the case of lack of governmental order. Listen to me when I tell you that there is absolutely no reason that the alphabet is arranged the way that it is. Moreover, the alphabet is simply a product of human nature and how it leads people to establish order for things that do not require it.

Now I know this sounds crazy, but bear with me. Only if you really peel away the layers of the alphabet will you find the true weight it carries. People organized the letters of our speech into a specific order simply because there wasn’t already one. Questioning this order will enlighten you on the true meaning of it. Really dig deep into the meaning behind the social construct that is the alphabet. Short and sweet as it may be, the order of the ABCs is much less than meets the eye. There is no reason that “J” should fall before “K”! Understand this. Very important as order is, it is only a result of human nature.

What’s next? X-rays become independent of Xylophones in children’s books of ABCs?

You know what the best part is? Zero chance you even noticed that each sentence in this essay is in alphabetical order.

– Jess Levitt

 

Drs. Kane and Petrosyan

POEM procedure is safe and effective for children with esophageal achalasia

Drs. Kane and Petrosyan

Drs. Petrosyan and Kane combined perform more POEM procedures for children than any other pediatric surgeons in the United States.

Peroral endoscopic myotomy (POEM) is a safe and effective procedure to treat pediatric achalasia according to a single-center outcomes study in the Journal of Pediatric Surgery.

Authors Timothy Kane, M.D., chief of General and Thoracic Surgery at Children’s National Hospital, and Mikael Petrosyan, M.D., MBA, associate chief of that division, together perform more of these procedures than any other pediatric surgeons in the United States.

Their experience with POEM shows that it is as safe and effective as the current standard of care for pediatric achalasia, which is a procedure called the laparoscopic Heller myotomy (LHM). Even better, previous research in adults and now in pediatric patients, has shown that those who undergo POEM as an alternative to LHM report less pain and often require shorter hospital stays after surgery.

Why it matters

POEM has been an option for adults with achalasia for many years, but not for children because it requires technical skill and expertise not readily available everywhere. More studies of young patients with successful outcomes following POEM procedures can help make the case for training more pediatric surgeons to learn this approach, and help this alternative method become an additional surgical option for children with achalasia.

The hold-up in the field

Achalasia is a rare condition in adults (1/100,000) and even less common in children, occurring in only 0.1 per 100,000 patients with an estimated prevalence of 10 per 100,000. The rarity of achalasia in children compared with adults makes collecting enough statistically significant evidence about how best to treat them difficult, more so than for other more common pediatric surgical conditions.

Children’s National Hospital leads the way

Children’s National Hospital is one of the only children’s hospitals in the country to offer the option of POEM for treatment of these conditions in children — and Drs. Kane and Petrosyan combined perform more of these procedures than any other pediatric surgeons in the United States.

The surgeons at Children’s National offer POEM as a primary intervention for children with esophageal achalasia and are also applying the same approach for pediatric gastroparesis as well.

Children’s National Hospital is one of only 12 children’s hospitals in the country, and the only hospital in the Washington, D.C., region, to be verified as a Level 1 Children’s Surgery Center by the American College of Surgeons (ACS) Children’s Surgery Verification Quality Improvement Program. This distinction recognizes surgery centers whose quality improvement programs have measurably improved pediatric surgical quality, prevented complications, reduced costs and saved lives.

Bottom line

Given their reported outcomes so far, the authors believe that in the long term this approach may replace the current pediatric standard of care, the LHM. More research is needed to make this case, however, including long-term follow-up studies of the patients who have undergone the procedure so far.

You can read the full study, “Per Oral Endoscopic Myotomy (POEM) for Pediatric Achalasia: Institutional Experience and Outcomes,” in the Journal of Pediatric Surgery.

two doctors perform surgery

Can complex pediatric surgery interventions be standardized to facilitate telementoring?

two doctors perform surgery

The study’s authors write, “These discussions are particularly relevant to surgeons in small or rural practices who provide much-needed care to underserved populations and have decreased exposure to these index cases. Conversely, in some developing countries where prevalence of rare congenital surgical conditions is higher, there is a shortage of adequately trained pediatric surgeons. Each of these scenarios involves a mismatch in experience and exposure, which can result in poor patient outcomes and inadequate healthcare delivery.”

How does a surgeon-in-training get enough exposure to rare or complex cases to serve the patients who need them? How does a practicing surgeon perform enough cases each year to maintain proficiency at such index cases?

The authors of a study in the Journal of Pediatric Surgery, including Marc Levitt, M.D., chief of the Division of Colorectal and Pelvic Reconstruction at Children’s National Hospital, write that, “These discussions are particularly relevant to surgeons in small or rural practices who provide much-needed care to underserved populations and have decreased exposure to these index cases. Conversely, in some developing countries where prevalence of rare congenital surgical conditions is higher, there is a shortage of adequately trained pediatric surgeons. Each of these scenarios involves a mismatch in experience and exposure, which can result in poor patient outcomes and inadequate healthcare delivery.”

Telementoring is one strategy being explored by the American College of Surgeons’ Telementoring Task Force initiative. Pediatric anorectal malformations (ARM), pediatric colorectal surgical procedure, posterior sagittal anorectoplasty (PSARP) were the “index” areas for the pilot study. Once the expert established the areas of great need, they will test the feasibility of a curriculum and training program using telementoring in pediatric surgery. The ACS Task Force notes that these conditions are relatively rare and require a particular skill level to manage appropriately, making them good candidates for the study.

The Journal of Pediatric Surgery study presents a process for mapping out a standardized curriculum for these procedures. First, the authors sought expert consensus on three interoperative checklists that form a de facto curriculum for teaching, learning and performing ARM and PSARP procedures. Second, a multidisciplinary team of medical educators and pediatric surgery experts drafted the checklists. The authors then sought review and input from pediatric colorectal surgery experts at 10 institutions worldwide, who comprised the study’s colorectal pediatric surgery subject matter expert panel. To be considered “expert,” participants had to meet or exceed several strict inclusion criteria related to years in practice and experience with these case types.

Institutions of the colorectal pediatric surgery subject matter expert panel.

Institutions of the colorectal pediatric surgery subject matter expert panel.

The process led to a successful set of consensus documents. “To our knowledge, this is the first study to establish and standardize key intraoperative objectives using a modified-Delphi method in pediatric surgery,” the authors write. “Although this process can be quite time consuming, it provides an incredible opportunity to standardize intraoperative teaching and expectations of trainees. Future studies will expand these checklists into developing a competency assessment tool involving assessment for validity and reliability in a clinical setting to ultimately improve patient safety through standardization.”

Dr. Levitt says the overarching goal of this work is “to improve the surgical technique everywhere [to] thereby help as many kids as we can, even those we will never meet.”

sick child in palliative care hospital bed

How POEM may change the standard of care for pediatric achalasia

sick child in palliative care hospital bed

Today, Drs. Petrosyan and Kane have performed over 35 POEM procedures for children to resolve esophageal achalasia symptoms.

In 2016, pediatric surgeons Mikael Petrosyan, M.D., and Timothy Kane, M.D., published an article in the Journal of Pediatric Surgery reviewing their experience with the surgical treatment of achalasia and how peroral endoscopic myotomy (POEM) was a new technique being used at Children’s National Hospital to treat esophageal achalasia in children.

The procedure, first used in adults to treat esophageal achalasia, uses a different approach than the current minimally invasive standard of care for children, the Heller myotomy. At the time of the initial study, the team had performed only a few POEM procedures for children but was already starting to see the promise this procedure could offer if done correctly.

While esophageal achalasia affects only about one in every 1 million kids (versus one in 100,000 for adults), the condition, which occurs when the esophagus muscles fail to function properly and the lower sphincter of the esophagus doesn’t relax enough to allow food into the stomach, can have serious impacts on daily life. The tight sphincter may cause food backup, heartburn, chest pain, and many other painful symptoms. Unfortunately, medical interventions including balloon endoscopy or Botox injections, are only temporary fixes that don’t last longer than a month or so before further treatment is needed. For kids who have long lives ahead of them, a surgical solution is the best hope for permanent symptom relief.

At the time of the 2016 study, Dr. Kane said that, “Heller myotomy works very well for most kids — that’s why it’s the standard of care. Our study found that patients who underwent the POEM procedure experienced the same successful outcomes as Heller patients, and we already knew from adult data that POEM patients reported less pain following surgery — a win-win for children.”

Today, Drs. Petrosyan, the associate chief, and Kane, the chief, of General and Thoracic Surgery at Children’s National, have performed over 35 POEM procedures for children to resolve esophageal achalasia symptoms. Increasingly, they find themselves recommending the POEM for many reasons, including, of course, the faster recovery. Kids who have a POEM procedure also often go home in one to two days following surgery and report less pain — typically a sore throat from the endoscopy and the anesthesia, but very little pain at the surgical site.

The surgeons say that the while it takes a steep learning curve to perfect the technique of using POEM in children due to the size of the available instruments to perform the procedure coupled with the challenge of a child’s tiny esophagus, the benefits for patients are well worth it.

“There’s only a single incision in the esophagus, and no incision in the abdomen,” says Dr. Petrosyan. “Kids tolerate the surgery really well, report very little pain, and recover very quickly with minimal complications.”

Even better, he continues, unlike the Heller myotomy, POEM can be performed at any point in treatment, even if other therapies or surgical interventions (including a Heller myotomy) have been previously performed. It can also be repeated if needed — though so far, they haven’t needed to do any further revisions in the population at Children’s National.

Drs. Petrosyan and Kane have performed successful POEM procedures for children with esophageal achalasia between the ages of four and 12. Younger children, (under a year of age) with smaller anatomy, continue to be treated using the Heller procedure due to the limitations in size of the surgical instruments.

Children’s National Hospital is one of the only children’s hospitals in the country to offer the option of POEM for treatment of these conditions — and Drs. Kane and Petrosyan combined perform more of these procedures than any other pediatric surgeon in the United States.

A forthcoming peer-reviewed study will highlight the use of POEM for this population and weigh its success against the current standards of care for treating children with esophageal achalasia.

In the meantime, the surgeons at Children’s National continue to offer POEM as a primary intervention for children with esophageal achalasia and are also applying the same approach for pediatric gastroparesis as well.

Cover of the December issue of Seminars on Pediatric Surger

Reflections on Seminars in Pediatric Surgery December 2020

Cover of the December issue of Seminars on Pediatric Surger

Marc Levitt, M.D., served as guest editor of a special December Seminars in Pediatric Surgery dedicated to the care and treatment of anorectal malformations.

By Marc Levitt, M.D., chief of the Division of Colorectal and Pelvic Reconstruction at Children’s National Hospital

I was honored to serve as the Guest Editor on the topic of “Anorectal Malformations” in the prestigious Seminars in Pediatric Surgery Volume 29, Issue 6, December 2020.

We had 64 contributing authors from 12 countries; Australia, Austria, Germany, Ghana, Italy, Israel, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Spain, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States, and 12 U.S. colorectal collaborating programs; Children’s National, Boston Children’s, Children’s Mercy, Children’s Wisconsin, C.S. Mott Children’s, Cincinnati Children’s, Nationwide Children’s, Nicklaus Children’s, Omaha Children’s, Primary Children’s, Seattle Children’s, and UC Davis Children’s.

There were eight authors from the Children’s National team; myself, Colorectal Director Andrea Badillo, M.D., Colorectal Program Manager Julie Choueiki, MSN, RN, Surgical Center Director Susan Callicott, Katie Worst, CPNP-AC, Grace Ma, M.D., Chief of Urology Hans Pohl, M.D., and Chief of Gynecology Veronica Gomez-Lobo, M.D.

The series of articles included in this collection illustrate new techniques and ideas that over time have made a dramatic and positive impact on the care and quality of life of children who suffer from colorectal problems. With an integrated approach to the care of this complex group of patients, great things can be achieved. As we endeavor to advance this field, we need to always remember that, as Alberto Pena, M.D., often said, “it is not the unanswered questions, but rather the unquestioned answers that one must pursue.”

In my own article on advances in the field, a 2021 update, I reproduce a piece by my daughter, Jess Levitt, who wrote something applicable to the care of children with colorectal problems, with the message that helping to create order is vital to improve a somewhat chaotic medical process traditionally available for the care of complex care. Her essay is reproduced here:

“A” must come before “B,” which must come before “C,” everybody knows that. But what if the Millercamp’s of this world did not have to sit next to the Millerchip’s when it comes to seating arrangements? Can Pat Zawatsky be called before Jack Aaronson when the teacher is taking attendance? Do those 26 letters that make up all the dialogue, signs, thoughts, books, and titles in the English-speaking departments of the world need their specific spots in line? Everyone can sing you the well-known jingle from A to Z, but not many people can tell you why the alphabet is the way it is. For almost as long as humans have had the English language, they have had the alphabet. The good ole ABCs.

However, the alphabet represents the human need for order and stability. I believe that the same thinking that went into the construct of time and even government went into the alphabet. Justifiably, lack of order leads to chaos. Knife-throwing, gun-shooting chaos, in the case of lack of governmental order. Listen to me when I tell you that there is absolutely no reason that the alphabet is arranged the way that it is. Moreover, the alphabet is simply a product of human nature and how it leads people to establish order for things that do not require it. 

Now I know this sounds crazy but bear with me. Only if you really peel away the layers of the alphabet will you find the true weight it carries. People organized the letters of our speech into a specific order simply because there wasn’t already one. Questioning this order will enlighten you on the true meaning of it. Really dig deep into the meaning behind the social construct that is the alphabet. Short and sweet as it may be, the order of the ABCs is much less than meets the eye. There is no reason that “J” should fall before “K!” Understand this. Very important as order is, it is only a result of human nature.  What’s next? X-rays become independent of Xylophones in children’s books of ABCs? 

You know what the best part is? Zero chance you even noticed that each sentence in this essay is in alphabetical order.

Her literary contribution inspired me to do something similar. Take a look at the list of articles in this Seminars edition:

  1. Creating a collaborative program for the care of children with colorectal and pelvic problems. Alejandra Vilanova-Sánchez, Julie Choueiki, Caitlin A. Smith, Susan Callicot, Jason S. Frischer and Marc A. Levitt
  2. Optimal management of the newborn with an anorectal malformation and evaluation of their continence potential. Sebastian K. King, Wilfried Krois, Martin Lacher, Payam Saadai, Yaron Armon and Paola Midrio
  3. Lasting impact on children with an anorectal malformations with proper surgical preparation, respect for anatomic principles, and precise surgical management. Rebecca M. Rentea, Andrea T. Badillo, Stuart Hosie, Jonathan R. Sutcliffe and Belinda Dickie
  4. Long-term urologic and gynecologic follow-up and the importance of collaboration for patients with anorectal malformations. Clare Skerritt, Daniel G. Dajusta, Molly E. Fuchs, Hans Pohl, Veronica Gomez-Lobo and Geri Hewitt
  5. Assessing the previously repaired patient with an anorectal malformation who is not doing well. Victoria A. Lane, Juan Calisto, Ivo Deblaauw, Casey M. Calkins, Inbal Samuk and Jeffrey R. Avansino
  6. Bowel management for the treatment of fecal incontinence and constipation in patients with anorectal malformations. Onnalisa Nash, Sarah Zobell, Katherine Worst and Michael D. Rollins
  7. Organizing the care of a patient with a cloacal malformation: Key steps and decision making for pre-, intra-, and post-operative repair. Richard J. Wood, Carlos A. Reck-Burneo, Alejandra Vilanova-Sanchez and Marc A. Levitt
  8. Radiology of anorectal malformations: What does the surgeon need to know? Matthew Ralls, Benjamin P. Thompson, Brent Adler, Grace Ma, D. Gregory Bates, Steve Kraus and Marcus Jarboe
  9. Adjuncts to bowel management for fecal incontinence and constipation, the role of surgery; appendicostomy, cecostomy, neoappendicostomy, and colonic resection. Devin R. Halleran, Cornelius E.J. Sloots, Megan K. Fuller and Karen Diefenbach
  10. Treating pediatric colorectal patients in low and middle income settings: Creative adaptation to the resources available. Giulia Brisighelli, Victor Etwire, Taiwo Lawal, Marion Arnold and Chris Westgarth-Taylor
  11. Importance of education and the role of the patient and family in the care of anorectal malformations. Greg Ryan, Stephanie Vyrostek, Dalia Aminoff, Kristina Booth, Sarah Driesbach, Meghan Fisher, Julie Gerberick, Michel Haanen, Chelsea Mullins, Lori Parker and Nicole Schwarzer
  12. Ongoing care for the patient with an anorectal malfromation; transitioning to adulthood. Alessandra Gasior, Paola Midrio, Dalia Aminoff and Michael Stanton
  13. New and exciting advances in pediatric colorectal and pelvic reconstructive surgery – 2021 update. Marc A. Levitt

The first letter of each article forms an acrostic of the word “COLLABORATION” which is the secret sauce behind any success in the field of pediatric colorectal care.

Marc Levitt plays with a patient

Evidence to eliminate burdensome postop practice after imperforate anus repair

Marc Levitt plays with a patient

The study was co-led by Marc Levitt, M.D., who launched the division of Pediatric Colorectal and Pelvic Reconstructive Surgery at Children’s National Hospital in late 2019.

A prospective randomized controlled trial has given pediatric colorectal specialists the first evidence to reconsider a standard postoperative care practice: Routine anal dilations following a primary posterior sagittal anorectoplasty (PSARP), an operation to reconstruct a child born with imperforate anus. This treatment has been the standard of care following PSARP for more than thirty years and was believed to help prevent strictures after surgery for anorectal malformations (imperforate anus). However, it requires parents and caregivers to perform this uncomfortable procedure on their child daily, which can have a significant psychological impact on the child. Prior to this trial, a quality of life assessment found that postoperative dilations were the most stressful part of these patients’ care for both patient and parents.

“The PSARP procedure, performed for the first time in 1980, improves the lives of children born with imperforate anus by providing a safe and effective reconstruction technique,” says Marc Levitt, M.D., who led the study with co-author Richard Wood, M.D., of Nationwide Children’s Hospital, before joining Children’s National Hospital as chief of the division of Colorectal and Pelvic Reconstructive Surgery. “We are thrilled to have evidence that one of the top postoperative challenges for parents – a twice daily anal dilation for several months after the surgery is completed – can potentially be eliminated for most kids with no impact on their recovery.”

“We also found that if a stricture, or scar, develops, which occurs in only about 10 percent of cases, it can easily be managed with a minor operative procedure done at the same time as colostomy closure, which in most cases they already need. So, if a family had to choose between daily dilations for months or a one in 10 risk of needing a minor surgical procedure, they can now make that choice and avoid routine dilations.”

The prospective single institution randomized controlled trial was conducted between 2017 and 2019 and included 49 patients. The abstract of the results was accepted for presentation at the British Association of Paediatric Surgeons Annual International Congress, 2020, and its manuscript is to be published.

“The clinical benefit of routine dilation had never been studied in a formal way, it had been accepted as surgical dogma. Our cohort, who underwent a randomized controlled trial, gave us the ability to look at this practice in an evidence-based way,” Dr. Levitt says. “Revising this practice could be a real game-changer for parents and kids with anorectal malformations.”

Dr. Sean Tabaie at the Limb Deformity Course

Orthopaedic surgeon shares expertise at Baltimore Limb Deformity Course

Dr. Sean Tabaie at the Limb Deformity Course

Dr. Tabaie oversees a hands-on lab session focused on teaching orthopaedic surgeons and other allied health professionals proper assessment and placement of corrective hardware for limb deformities.

Sean Tabaie served as a lab instructor to guide hands-on applications of the latest devices for treatment of limb deformities.

Earlier this year, Children’s National orthopaedic surgeon Sean Tabaie, M.D., served as a faculty member for one of the most highly regarded courses focused on limb deformities, the 29th Annual Baltimore Limb Deformity Course. The course is presented each year by the International Center for Limb Lengthening.

The event brings together nearly 400 orthopaedic physicians, podiatrists and allied health professionals from 36 countries and 33 states to learn from pre-eminent surgical experts in these conditions. The three-day meeting provides lecture content as well as hands-on opportunities to practice care and treatment of limb deformities in both adults and children.

Dr. Tabaie served as a lab instructor, sharing expertise and in-depth knowledge from the pediatric perspective about how to assess limb alignment and plan corrections for specific deformities. The faculty teams also outlined current best practices for correction of several specific deformities, including Blount’s deformity, using internal and external devices.

“It was an honor to be asked to serve as faculty alongside these pre-eminent leaders in the field of limb deformity,” he says. “It is workshops like these that give us the opportunity to share what we know and also learn from the experience of others. And ultimately, lending expertise to these courses helps everyone more effectively assess and treat limb deformities in children and adults around the world.”

Read more about the course’s esteemed history and its 2020 schedule.

child measuring his stomach

Cognitive function does not predict weight-loss outcome for adolescents

child measuring his stomach

Though young people with intellectual disabilities or cognitive impairment have greater rates of obesity and other comorbidities that impact their health and well-being, primary care providers are often reluctant to discuss or refer these patients for weight-loss surgery due to concerns about their ability to assent to both the surgery and the ongoing diet and lifestyle changes after surgery.

However, a study in Pediatrics authored by psychologists at Children’s National Health System finds that these young people, including those with Down syndrome, have similar weight-loss trajectories to those with typical cognitive function after bariatric surgery. The study is the first to look at post-surgical outcomes for this subgroup of adolescent bariatric surgery patients.

“It’s challenging to ensure that an adolescent who is cognitively impaired understands what it means to undergo a surgical procedure like bariatric surgery, but we do find ways to ensure assent whenever possible, and make sure the patient also has a guardian capable of consent,” says Sarah Hornack, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist at Children’s National and the study’s first author. “A very important determinant of post-surgical success for any young candidate, however, is a support structure to help them with weight-loss surgery requirements. Often, we see that adolescents with lower cognitive function already have a well-established support system in place to assist them with other care needs, that can easily adapt to providing structure and follow through after weight-loss surgery, too.”

The study reviewed outcomes for 63 adolescents ranging in age from 13 to 24 years old with an average body mass index of 51.2, all of whom were part of the bariatric surgery program at Children’s National Health System. The participants were diagnosed with cognitive impairment or intellectual disability via standardized cognitive assessments as part of a preoperative psychological evaluation or through a previous diagnosis. This study adds to the body of research that is helping to create standard criteria for bariatric surgery in adolescents and teenagers.

Children’s National is one of only a few children’s hospitals with accreditation from the Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery Accreditation and Quality Improvement Program of the American College of Surgeons and the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery to offer bariatric surgery for adolescents with severe obesity. The extraordinary diversity of the patient population in Washington, D.C., including high rates of young people with obesity, allows the team to collect more comprehensive information about successful interventions across subgroups, including cognitive impairment or developmental disabilities, than nearly every other center in the United States.

“We’re happy to contribute evidence that can help families and care providers make informed health decisions for young people with intellectual disabilities or cognitive impairments. So many families are hoping to make sure that their children, despite disabilities, can be as healthy as possible in the long term,” says Eleanor Mackey, Ph.D., who is also a clinical psychologist at Children’s National and served as the study’s senior author. “Though the sample size is small, it does give credence to the idea that for many adolescents and teenagers, weight loss surgery may be a really viable option regardless of pre-existing conditions such as intellectual ability or cognitive function.”

Jeffrey Lukish

Pediatric Surgeon receives ACS/APSA Health Policy Scholarship

Jeffrey Lukish

Jeffrey Lukish, M.D., a pediatric surgeon at Children’s National Health System, has been named a 2019 American College of Surgeons (ACS) and American Pediatric Surgical Association (APSA) Health Policy Scholar for 2019.

The scholarship supports Dr. Lukish’s attendance at the Executive Leadership Program in Health Policy and Management at Brandeis University, which teaches knowledge and skills essential for participating in health care policy and equips health leaders with tools to create innovative and sustainable ways to improve health care service delivery. As a 2019 scholar, he will also provide health policy-related assistance to the ACS and the APSA as requested, and will have opportunities to build relationships with local, state and federal lawmakers.

Dr. Lukish is a nationally recognized expert in advanced minimally invasive surgery in infants and children, as well as pediatric surgical innovation. He has been voted a Baltimore Top Doctor by his peers for five of the last eight years. He holds academic appointments as a professor of surgery from the Uniformed Services University and associate professor of surgery at the George Washington University.

Dr. Lukish is a fellow of the American College of Surgeons and the American Academy of Pediatrics, and member of several prominent professional societies, including the American Pediatric Surgical Society, the Pediatric Cancer Oncology Group and the International Pediatric Endosurgery Group.  He has authored over 100 publications.

Adolescent brain scan from obesity study

Imaging captures obesity’s impact on the adolescent brain

Adolescent brain scan from obesity study

For the first time, a team of researchers led by Chandan Vaidya, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Psychology at Georgetown University, has used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to capture the brain function of a small population of adolescents with obesity, both before and after bariatric surgery.

Obesity affects the whole body, from more obvious physical impacts on bones and joints to more subtle, internal impacts on organs like the brain.

For the first time, a team of researchers has used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to capture the brain function of a small population of adolescents with obesity, both before and after bariatric surgery. The goal is to better understand the neural changes that occur when an adolescent is obese, and determine the effectiveness of interventions, such as vertical sleeve gastrectomy, at improving brain function as weight is lost.

The study, published as the November Editors’ Choice in the journal Obesity, found that executive and reward-related brain functions of study participants with obesity improved following the surgical procedure and initial weight loss.

How bariatric surgery changes the teenage brain from Research Square on Vimeo.

“We’ve known for some time that severe obesity has negative consequences on some neurocognitive function areas for adults,” says Chandan Vaidya, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Psychology at Georgetown University and a senior author of the study. “But for the first time, we’ve captured fMRI evidence in young patients, and also shown that surgical intervention and the resulting weight loss can reverse some of those deficits.”

“For me, this early evidence makes a strong case that when kids are struggling with severe obesity, we need to consider surgical intervention as an option sooner in the process,” notes Evan Nadler, M.D., director of the Bariatric Surgery Program at Children’s National Health System, who also contributed to the study. “The question that remains is whether the neurocognitive function improves more if surgery, and thus weight loss, happens earlier – and is there a time factor that should help us determine when to perform a procedure that will maximize improvements?”

The preliminary study included 36 participants and was conducted using patients recruited from the Children’s National Bariatric Surgery program, one of the first children’s hospitals to achieve national accreditation by the Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery Accreditation and Quality Improvement Program.

“We asked these questions because we know that in the kids we see, their behavioral, brain, and physical health are all very closely related to one another and have an impact on each other,” adds Eleanor Mackey, Ph.D., study senior author and co-principal investigator on the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases grant that funded the project. “We expected that as physical health improves, we might see corresponding improvements in brain and behavior such as cognitive and school performance.”

The study also pointed out some technical and practical challenges to studying this particular young population. Anyone with a BMI greater than 50 was not able to fit within the MR bore used in the study, preventing fMRI participation by those patients.

“In addition to future studies with a larger sample size, we’d like to see if there are neuroimaging markers of plasticity differences in a population with BMI greater than 50,” says Dr. Vaidya. “Does the severity of the obesity change how quickly the brain can adapt following surgery and weight loss?”

The abstract was selected by the journal’s editors as one that provides insights into preventing and treating obesity. It was featured at the Obesity Journal Symposium during Obesity Week 2017 in Washington, D.C., as part of the Obesity Week recognition, and a digital video abstract was also released about the findings.