Quality and Safety

Tomas Silber

Tomas Silber, M.D., awarded AAP’s highest honor in bioethics

Tomas Silber

Each year the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Section on Bioethics presents the Academy’s highest honor in bioethics, the William G. Bartholome Award for Ethical Excellence. The award is named in honor of Dr. Bartholome, who made significant contributions to the field of pediatric ethics, and thus to the medical care of children. This year the Section proudly presented the award to Tomas Silber, M.D., M.A.S.S., adolescent medicine specialist and executive committee member of the Ethics Program at Children’s National Hospital and professor emeritus at George Washington University.

Dr. Silber has dedicated more than fifty years of work to reflecting, writing, teaching and devoting his energy to the divulgation of the field of pediatric ethics. He says it’s an honor to be recognized by his peers with this award.

“As a very young physician, I edited several issues of Pediatric Annals to Pediatric Ethics. One of the contributors I invited was actually Dr. Bartholome, whose seminal work on Pediatric Assent I had followed very closely and admiringly,” says Dr. Silber. “Forty years have passed since our work together, and it is a tremendous honor, now that I am emeritus, to receive the award named after him.”

As he reflects on the present day, Dr. Silber says one of the most important pediatric ethical issues is equity and social justice in the care of children and adolescents.

“Ethicists need to be proactive in dealing with systemic racism in medicine and provide consultations free of bias,” he says.

Dr. Silber is a graduate from the Facultad de Medicina de la Universidad de Buenos Aires. He did his first pediatric residency at El Hospital de Niños en Buenos Aires, his second pediatric residency at Thomas Jefferson University, as part of the community pediatrics track, his fellowship in adolescent medicine at Children’s National and his master’s in special studies (bioethics) at George Washington University. He is a fellow of the AAP, the Pediatric Society, the Academy for Eating Disorders and the Society for Adolescent Medicine and Health.

For several decades, Dr. Silber served as the director of the Pediatric Ethics Program at Children’s National.

“I am most proud of the thoughtful contributions of the multi-disciplinary team of the Ethics Committee at Children’s National, and above all how the torch has now passed to Dr. Vanessa Madrigal and her wise leadership,” says Dr. Silber.

Other standout career achievements include his leadership as chair of the Section on Bioethics of the AAP, and his contribution to the AAP Ethics Curriculum for Pediatric Residents and the chapter on adolescents in the Encyclopedia of Bioethics.

Dr. Silber extends his gratitude to the leadership of Children’s National, who he says made it possible for him to obtain his master’s degree, publish Pediatric Ethicscope and develop his skills as an ethics consultant and research subject advocate.

“Without the support I’ve been given at Children’s National, my work in the field of Pediatric Ethics would not have been possible,” he says.

US News badges

For fifth year in a row, Children’s National Hospital nationally ranked a top 10 children’s hospital

US News badges

Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C., was ranked in the top 10 nationally in the U.S. News & World Report 2021-22 Best Children’s Hospitals annual rankings. This marks the fifth straight year Children’s National has made the Honor Roll list, which ranks the top 10 children’s hospitals nationwide. In addition, its neonatology program, which provides newborn intensive care, ranked No.1 among all children’s hospitals for the fifth year in a row.

For the eleventh straight year, Children’s National also ranked in all 10 specialty services, with seven specialties ranked in the top 10.

“It is always spectacular to be named one of the nation’s best children’s hospitals, but this year more than ever,” says Kurt Newman, M.D., president and CEO of Children’s National. “Every member of our organization helped us achieve this level of excellence, and they did it while sacrificing so much in order to help our country respond to and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“When choosing a hospital for a sick child, many parents want specialized expertise, convenience and caring medical professionals,” said Ben Harder, chief of health analysis and managing editor at U.S. News. “The Best Children’s Hospitals rankings have always highlighted hospitals that excel in specialized care. As the pandemic continues to affect travel, finding high-quality care close to home has never been more important.”

The annual rankings are the most comprehensive source of quality-related information on U.S. pediatric hospitals. The rankings recognize the nation’s top 50 pediatric hospitals based on a scoring system developed by U.S. News. The top 10 scorers are awarded a distinction called the Honor Roll.

The bulk of the score for each specialty service is based on quality and outcomes data. The process includes a survey of relevant specialists across the country, who are asked to list hospitals they believe provide the best care for patients with the most complex conditions.

Below are links to the seven Children’s National specialty services that U.S. News ranked in the top 10 nationally:

The other three specialties ranked among the top 50 were cardiology and heart surgerygastroenterology and gastro-intestinal surgery, and urology.

doctor listening to girl's heart

Decision support tool for chest pain reduces unnecessary cardiology referrals

doctor listening to girl's heart

A new study in the journal Medical Decision Making reports how well a new decision-support tool assisted pediatricians to apply validated criteria and reduce referrals to cardiology for children with chest pain.

In 2017, cardiologists from Children’s National Hospital and other centers published criteria to reliably detect risk for cardiac disease in children presenting with chest pain. However, despite the validated criteria published more than three years ago, as many as half of the children with chest pain who are referred to cardiology from a primary care doctor continue not to meet these criteria.

In response, the cardiology and Children’s National Pediatricians & Associates (CNP&A) team developed a decision support tool based on the validated criteria that was then incorporated into the CNP&A electronic medical record. A study, Promoting Judicious Primary Care Referral of Patients with Chest Pain to Cardiology: A Quality Improvement Initiative, in the journal Medical Decision Making reports how well the tool assisted pediatricians to apply the criteria and reduced referrals to cardiology for children who do not meet criteria for consultation by a pediatric cardiac specialist.

“As stated by the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, improving the U.S. health care system requires simultaneous pursuit of three aims: improving the experience of care, improving the health of populations and reducing per capita costs of health care. Known as the Triple Aim, such improvement includes reducing referrals to specialists for conditions that could be managed in primary care. Fewer unnecessary referrals can reduce costs by decreasing unnecessary testing and specialist time and also has the potential to improve the patient experience by providing care in the medical home,” the authors note.

The study highlights the results of a focused healthcare improvement initiative that engaged pediatricians, nurses, trainees and nurse practitioners at primary care practices to implement the new decision support tool. With the tool in place, the team saw a 71% reduction (from 17% referred to 5% referred) in cardiology referrals for children presenting to cardiology who did not meet the criteria for a referral. At almost one year of follow up, the reduction in referrals based on the criteria did not lead to any missed detections of potential life-threatening events, either.

“This study shows that patients presenting with chest pain who do not meet clinical criteria for referral can be safely and confidently managed at their medical home by their primary care provider,” says Ashraf Harahsheh, M.D., director of Quality Outcomes in Cardiology at Children’s National Heart Institute, who led the study with colleagues. “Avoiding unnecessary referrals to cardiology may help prevent missed work and school days for families and children and will also make sure that the children who truly need a cardiology evaluation can be evaluated quickly.”

This collaboration between our specialty colleagues and primary care clinicians improves care for our patients by bringing an evidence-based approach to managing a condition in a manner that reduces the burden of anxiety for families by addressing their concerns in their medical home,” adds Ellen Hamburger, M.D., study co-author and medical director of the Pediatric Health Network.

After the success of the project at Children’s National Hospital in partnership with the CNP&A, the team is now in talks with UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and Phoenix Children’s Care Network to expand the quality improvement initiative to their primary care networks as well.

Ashraf S Harahsheh, Ellen K Hamburger, Lena Saleh, Lexi M Crawford, Edward Sepe, Ariel Dubelman, Lena Baram, Kathleen M Kadow, Christina Driskill, Kathy Prestidge, James E Bost, Deena Berkowitz. Promoting Judicious Primary Care Referral of Patients with Chest Pain to Cardiology: A Quality Improvement Initiative. Med Decis Making. 2021 Mar 3;272989X21991445. Online ahead of print. DOI: 10.1177/0272989X21991445

girl with asthma inhaler

Children’s National becomes part of CAUSE Network

girl with asthma inhaler

Seven clinical sites in six different cities will join forces to perform mechanistic and translational studies examining the basic immunology of pediatric asthma among urban, under-resourced and largely minority children and adolescents.

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) allocated $10 million in funding to establish the Childhood Asthma in the Urban Setting (CAUSE) network. The NIAID plans to increase this number by $70 million over seven years to support the network. Children’s National Hospital will be part of the new research network, which is a 7-year consortium comprising of seven clinical sites in six different cities that will join forces to perform mechanistic and translational studies examining the basic immunology of pediatric asthma among urban, under-resourced and largely minority children and adolescents.

Children’s National is the home of Improving Pediatric Asthma Care in the District of Columbia (IMPACT DC). The program focuses on research, care and advocacy to decrease asthma morbidity experienced by at-risk youth in the region while serving as a model program for the nation. NIAID gave an initial $3 million to IMPACT DC to conduct its own pilot study of anti-IgE therapy to prevent asthma exacerbations. Additional support for this and other studies will come from subcontracts from the CAUSE Coordinating Center at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

“This new award allows IMPACT DC to remain part of one of the nation’s most prestigious pediatric asthma research consortia,” said Stephen Teach, M.D, M.P.H., chair for the Department of Pediatrics at George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences. “It will allow us to both pursue an independent research agenda while collaborating with similar academic centers nationwide.”

Pediatric asthma is the most common chronic disease in children, and it is estimated that about 6.1 million children under 18 years suffer from this condition. It disproportionately affects urban, minority and under-resourced children and adolescents.

“It is essential to develop an understanding of the basic immunology of the disease and therapeutic options to ameliorating these disparities,” said Dr. Teach.

CAUSE researchers will explore the mechanisms of immune tolerance to allergens, the role of early environmental exposures in the pathogenesis of asthma, the pathogenesis and mechanisms of non-atopic asthma, the role of the respiratory epithelium in asthma and more.

The CAUSE network comprises of seven clinical research centers, including Children’s National led by principal investigator, Dr. Teach, and the following research centers:

  • Boston Children’s Hospital. Principal investigators: Wanda Phipatanakul, M.D., and Talal Chatila, M.D.
  • Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. Principal investigator: Gurjit Khurana Hershey, M.D., Ph.D.
  • Columbia University Health Sciences, New York. Principal investigator: Meyer Kattan, M.D.
  • Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York. Principal investigators: Paula Busse, M.D., Supinda Bunyavanich, M.D., and Juan Wisnivesky, M.D.
  • Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. Principal investigators: Rajesh Kumar, M.D., and Jacqueline Pongracic, M.D.
  • University of Colorado Denver. Principal investigator: Andrew Liu, M.D.
Children's National Hospital

Children’s National laboratory receives CAP accreditation

Children's National Hospital

Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at Children’s National Hospital has been awarded accreditation by the Accreditation Committee of the College of American Pathologists (CAP) based on results of a recent on-site inspection conducted by CAP inspectors.

Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at Children’s National Hospital has been awarded accreditation by the Accreditation Committee of the College of American Pathologists (CAP) based on results of a recent on-site inspection conducted by CAP inspectors. The inspection team included practicing pathology and laboratory medicine professionals.

The Children’s National laboratory is one of more than 8,000 CAP- accredited facilities worldwide that have been recognized for excellence in laboratory services.

“Receiving this gold standard laboratory accreditation again shows that our team is committed to providing lab services with the highest quality and accuracy,” said Meghan Delaney, D.O., M.P.H., chief of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at Children’s National Hospital.

The U.S. government recognizes the CAP Laboratory Accreditation Program, started in the early 1960s, as being equal-to or more-stringent-than the government’s own inspection program.

During the CAP accreditation process, which is designed to ensure the highest standard of care for all laboratory patients, inspectors examine the laboratory’s records and the quality control of procedures for the preceding two years. The CAP inspectors also examine laboratory staff qualifications, equipment, facilities, safety program and record and overall management.

This significant accomplishment further demonstrates the commitment of the pathology and laboratory medicine team to ensuring high-quality patient care at Children’s National Hospital.

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.

Mended Little Hearts’ Volunteer of the Year, Maryann Mayhood, and her son Joseph delivered the Hospital of the Year award to Dr. Donofrio in November 2020.

Mended Little Hearts names Children’s National Hospital as ‘Hospital of the Year’

Mended Little Hearts’ Volunteer of the Year, Maryann Mayhood, and her son Joseph delivered the Hospital of the Year award to Dr. Donofrio in November 2020.

Mended Little Hearts’ Volunteer of the Year, Maryann Mayhood, and her son Joseph delivered the Hospital of the Year award to Dr. Donofrio in November 2020.

Children’s National Hospital was named Hospital of the Year by Mended Little Hearts, one of the top organizations in the U.S. for patients with congenital heart disease and their families. Children’s National was selected as the Hospital of the Year across all divisions of the Mended Little Hearts national network and the Washington, D.C. region. The hospital is recognized with the award for its efforts to empower Mended Little Hearts volunteers and make it possible for the group to provide peer support and education to children and adults with congenital heart disease, their families and the surrounding communities.

“It’s an honor to be recognized as a champion by a group like Mended Little Hearts that truly represents the voices and needs of patients and their families. We embrace and encourage their work because we know that providing the best care for children and their families goes beyond simply outstanding clinical service,” says Charles Berul, M.D., chief of Cardiology and co-director of the Children’s National Heart Institute. “We are privileged to have a group of dedicated volunteers from Mended Little Hearts who are willing to work side-by-side with our team to share peer support, education and guidance for our families at Children’s National.”

Though many in-person activities are currently on hold or held virtually for the health and safety of everyone during the COVID-19 public health emergency, Children’s National and Mended Little Hearts continue to coordinate closely together to support families as much as possible by making virtual connections and via the Mended Little Hearts “Bravery Bags,” which are given to every family and include personal essentials for a hospital stay as well as important guidance such as questions to ask care providers and how to seek more information about the care plan.

For the last few years, the hospital has also provided space within the hospital for the group to host family breakfasts and other events, making sure families have access to the information and support items they need during a hospital stay. They are also welcomed to many of the hospital’s annual events for adults and children with congenital heart disease and their families, to connect and share experiences.

“We are honored to recognize Children’s National Hospital for the outstanding work they have done to support heart patients and their families,” said Mended Hearts Inc. President Ron Manriquez. “That they have won this award is proof of the deep commitment they have to their members, families and the community at large. We are grateful for the work they do to support the Mended Little Hearts mission.”

Mended Little Hearts and its parent group, Mended Hearts, are organizations that inspire hope and seek to improve the quality of life for heart patients and their families through ongoing peer-to-peer support.

insta-3D™ imaging from company nView medical

New innovative 3D imaging technology used in pediatric spine surgery

insta-3D™ imaging from company nView medical

Children’s National Hospital performed the first surgical use of breakthrough medical imaging technology designed specifically for kids. The innovation, insta-3D™ imaging from company nView medical, is designed to make 3D images available in the operating room quickly and safely.

Children’s National Hospital performed the first surgical use of breakthrough medical imaging technology designed specifically for kids. The innovation, insta-3D™ imaging from company nView medical, is designed to make 3D images available in the operating room quickly and safely. The 3D images provide surgeons with better visualization, allowing them to continue improving patient care and outcomes.

Matthew Oetgen, M.D., division chief of Orthopaedic Surgery at Children’s National, is overseeing the first use of this 3D imaging technology in orthopaedic procedures.

“Having a technology like this available in the operating room will potentially help make our surgeries even more precise with 3D imaging available quickly,” says Dr. Oetgen. “We anticipate this improved precision will lead to better outcomes and added value to what we do for our patients.”

Cristian Atria, nView medical’s CEO, commented for the first case.

“Seeing our imaging technology provide critical information during a kid’s surgery reminds us what the purpose of nView medical is all about,” says Cristian. “I would like to thank the surgeons, our backers, the team, and our clinical partners for making this first surgery a success. I couldn’t be more enthusiastic for what’s ahead!”

The potential of nView medical’s insta-3D™ imaging is especially exciting for Children’s National as nView medical is a 2019 Winner of the National Capital Consortium for Pediatric Device Innovation (NCC-PDI) competition “Make Your Medical Device Pitch for Kids!” NCC-PDI is led by the Sheikh Zayed Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation at Children’s National and the A. James Clark School of Engineering at the University of Maryland with support from partners MedTech Innovator, BioHealth Innovation, and design firm Archimedic.

NCC-PDI is one of five members in the FDA’s Pediatric Device Consortia Grant Program created to support the development and commercialization of medical devices for children in areas of critical need where innovation can significantly improve children’s health care.

“Children deserve to benefit from our most advanced medical technologies and we know that improvements in pediatric care can make a positive difference over the lifetime of a child,” says Kolaleh Eskandanian, Ph.D., M.B.A, P.M.P, vice president and chief innovation officer at Children’s National and principal investigator of NCC-PDI. “Pediatric hospitals must lead the way in supporting innovation for children’s care. That’s why, through NCC-PDI and our innovation institute, Children’s National helps to provide promising new pediatric devices with resources and expertise that support their journey to the market.”

Research & Innovation Campus

Boeing gives $5 million to support Research & Innovation Campus

Research & Innovation Campus

Children’s National Hospital announced a $5 million gift from The Boeing Company that will help drive lifesaving pediatric discoveries at the new Children’s National Research & Innovation Campus.

Children’s National Hospital announced a $5 million gift from The Boeing Company that will help drive lifesaving pediatric discoveries at the new Children’s National Research & Innovation Campus. The campus, now under construction, is being developed on nearly 12 acres of the former Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Children’s National will name the main auditorium in recognition of Boeing’s generosity.

“We are deeply grateful to Boeing for their support and commitment to improving the health and well-being of children in our community and around the globe,” said Kurt Newman, M.D., president and CEO of Children’s National “The Boeing Auditorium will help the Children’s National Research & Innovation campus become the destination for discussion about how to best address the next big healthcare challenges facing children and families.”

The one-of-a-kind pediatric hub will bring together public and private partners for unprecedented collaborations. It will accelerate the translation of breakthroughs into new treatments and technologies to benefit kids everywhere.

“Children’s National Hospital’s enduring mission of positively impacting the lives of our youngest community members is especially important today,” said Boeing President and CEO David Calhoun. “We’re honored to join other national and community partners to advance this work through the establishment of their Research & Innovation Campus.”

Children’s National Research & Innovation Campus partners currently include Johnson & Johnson Innovation – JLABS, Virginia Tech, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Food & Drug Administration (FDA), U.S. Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), Cerner, Amazon Web Services, Microsoft, National Organization of Rare Diseases (NORD) and local government.

The 3,200 square-foot Boeing Auditorium will be the focal point of the state-of-the-art conference center on campus. Nationally renowned experts will convene with scientists, medical leaders and diplomats from around the world to foster collaborations that spur progress and disseminate findings.

Boeing’s $5 million commitment deepens its longstanding partnership with Children’s National. The company has donated nearly $2 million to support pediatric care and research at Children’s National through Chance for Life and the hospital’s annual Children’s Ball. During the coronavirus pandemic, Boeing fabricated and donated 2,000 face shields to help keep patients and frontline care providers at Children’s National safe.

Baby in the NICU

Quality improvement initiative reduces vancomycin use in NICU

Baby in the NICU

A quality improvement initiative in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Children’s National Hospital led to a significant reduction in treatment with intravenous vancomycin, an antibiotic used for resistant gram positive infections, which is often associated with acute kidney injury.

A quality improvement initiative in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Children’s National Hospital led to a significant reduction in treatment with intravenous vancomycin, an antibiotic used for resistant gram positive infections, which is often associated with acute kidney injury. The findings, published in the journal Pediatrics, show the initiative reduced vancomycin use in patients by 66%, and the NICU has sustained the reduction for more than a year.

Vancomycin is a broad-spectrum antibiotic often used to treat methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infection. It’s one of the most commonly prescribed antibiotics in NICUs, but its overuse poses an increased risk of morbidity. Benchmarking data showed that in 2017, vancomycin use at Children’s National Hospital was significantly higher than use at peer institutions, suggesting there was likely an opportunity to optimize use of this drug.

The intervention program was led by Rana Hamdy, M.D., M.S.C.E., M.P.H., an infectious diseases specialist at Children’s National, Lamia Soghier, M.D., medical unit director of the Children’s National NICU, and other team members from neonatologyinfectious diseases, pharmacy, nursing and quality improvement. The team accomplished the prescribing reduction by sequentially implementing a four-step approach involving interdisciplinary team building and provider education, pharmacist-initiated 48-hour time-outs, clinical pathway development and prospective audit with feedback.

“Our interdisciplinary quality improvement team was devoted to this project and implemented interventions that, early on, led not only to reduction in vancomycin use, but to better outcomes in our patients with fewer episodes of vancomycin-associated acute kidney injury,” said Dr. Hamdy. “This led to early buy-in from the prescribers, ultimately changing the culture of antibiotic prescribing in the NICU.”

Following the NICU’s intervention program to improve patient safety, vancomycin use in patients decreased from 112 days of therapy per 1,000 patient-days to 38 days of therapy per 1,000 patient-days. During the intervention program, the researchers noted that this was “the first work to show a significant change in vancomycin-associated acute kidney injury in neonates.”

Four key interventions were sequentially implemented to successfully achieve and sustain the reduction in vancomycin use. Intervention 1 was the development of an interdisciplinary and provider education team that addressed institutional antibiotic prescribing practices. Intervention 2, a pharmacist-initiated 48-hour time-out, involved clinical pharmacists identifying patients who have been on antibiotics for ≥ 48 hours and encouraged their providers to either discontinue vancomycin or to switch to a narrow-spectrum antibiotic. Intervention 3 consisted of the development of new clinical pathways including discontinuing vancomycin in infants at low risk for MRSA. Lastly, intervention 4, antimicrobial stewardship program (ASP) prospective audit and feedback, involved an ASP member reviewing all NICU vancomycin orders and issuing appropriate recommendations for NICU providers and pharmacists to be carried out within 24 hours.

This project was taken on as part of Children’s National Quality Improvement and Leadership Training (QuILT) course sponsored by the Quality & Safety Department. This notable work was highlighted in the 2019 annual Quality and Safety report and by the Magnet® program as an exemplary example of nursing-physician partnership working to improve patient care.

The associated article, “Reducing Vancomycin Use in a Level IV Neonatal Intensive Care Unit,” will be published July 1 in Pediatrics. The lead author is Dr. Rana Hamdy, an infectious diseases specialist and director of the Antimicrobial Stewardship Program. Twenty notable co-authors are also from Children’s National.

The science-policy interface

We can do better: Lessons learned on COVID-19 data sharing can inform future outbreak preparedness

Since COVID-19 emerged late last year, there’s been an enormous amount of research produced on this novel coronavirus disease. But the content publicly available for this data and the format in which it’s presented lack consistency across different countries’ national public health institutes, greatly limiting its usefulness, Children’s National Hospital scientists report in a new study. Their findings and suggestions, published online August 19 in Science & Diplomacy, could eventually help countries optimize their COVID-19-related data — and data for future outbreaks of other diseases — to help further new research, clinical decisions and policy-making around the world.

Recently, explains study senior author Emmanuèle Délot, Ph.D., research faculty at Children’s National Research Institute, she and her colleagues sought data on sex differences between COVID-19 patients around the world for a new study. However, she says, when they checked the information available about different countries, they found a startling lack of consistency, not only for sex-disaggregated data, but also for any type of clinical or demographic information.

“The prospects of finding the same types of formats that would allow us to aggregate information, or even the same types of information across different sites, was pretty dismal,” says Dr. Délot.

To determine how deep this problem ran, she and colleagues at Children’s National, including Eric Vilain, M.D., Ph.D., the James A. Clark Distinguished Professor of Molecular Genetics and the director of the Center for Genetic Medicine Research at Children’s National, and Jonathan LoTempio, a doctoral candidate in a joint program with Children’s National and George Washington University, surveyed and analyzed the data on COVID-19.

The research spanned data reported by public health agencies from highly COVID-19 burdened countries, viral genome sequence data sharing efforts, and data presented in publications and preprints.

PubMed entries with coronavirus

Publications with the term “coronavirus” archived in PubMed over time.

At the time of study, the 15 countries with the highest COVID-19 burden at the time included the US, Spain, Italy, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Turkey, Iran, China, Russia, Brazil, Belgium, Canada, the Netherlands and Switzerland. Together, these countries represented more than 75% of the reported global cases. The research team combed through COVID-19 data presented on each country’s public health institute website, looking first at the dashboards many provided for a quick glimpse into key data, then did a deeper dive into other data on this disease presented in other ways.

The data content they found, says LoTempio, was extremely heterogeneous. For example, while most countries kept running totals on confirmed cases and deaths, the availability of other types of data — such as the number of tests run, clinical aspects of the disease such as comorbidities, symptoms, or admission to intensive care, or demographic information on patients, such as age or sex — differed widely among countries.

Similarly, the format in which data was presented lacked any consistency among these institutes. Among the 15 countries, data was presented in plain text, HTML or PDF. Eleven offered an interactive web-based data dashboard, and seven had comma-separated data available for download. These formats aren’t compatible with each other, LoTempio explains, and there was little to no documentation about where the data that supplies some formats — such as continually updated web-based dashboards — was archived.

The science-policy interface

Graphic representation of the science-policy interface.

Dr. Vilain says that a robust system is already in place to allow uniform sharing of data on flu genomes — the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Global Initiative on Sharing All Influenza Data (GISAID) — which has been readily adapted for the virus that causes COVID-19 and has already helped advance some types of research. However, he says, countries need to work together to develop a similar system for harmonized sharing other types of data for COVID-19. The study authors recommend that COVID-19 data should be shared among countries using a standardized format and standardized content, informed by the success of GISAID and under the backing of the WHO.

In addition, the authors say, the explosion of research on COVID-19 should be curated by experts who can wade through the thousands of papers published on this disease since the pandemic began to identify research of merit and help merge clinical and basic science.

“Identifying the most useful science and sharing it in a way that’s usable to most researchers, clinicians and policymakers, will not only help us emerge from COVID-19 but could help us prepare for the next pandemic,” Dr. Vilain says.

Other researchers who contributed to this study include D’Andre Spencer, MPH, Rebecca Yarvitz, BA, and Arthur Delot-Vilain.

Neisseria meningitidis bacteria

Case report highlights importance of antibiotic stewardship

Neisseria meningitidis bacteria

Neisseria meningitidis is the leading cause of bacterial meningitis in adolescents and an important cause of disease in younger children as well.

A recent meningitis case treated at Children’s National Hospital raises serious concerns about a rise in antibiotic resistance in the common bacterium that caused it, researchers from the hospital write in a case report. Their findings, published online August 3 in the Journal of the Pediatric Infectious Disease Society, could change laboratory and clinical practice across the U.S. and potentially around the globe.

Neisseria meningitidis is the leading cause of bacterial meningitis in adolescents and an important cause of disease in younger children as well, say case report authors Gillian Taormina, D.O., a third year fellow in Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Children’s National, who was on service for this recent case, and Joseph Campos, Ph.D., D(ABMM), FAAM, director of the Microbiology Laboratory and the Infectious Diseases Molecular Diagnostics Laboratory at Children’s National. As standard clinical practice in the U.S., they explain, patients who are thought to have this infection are typically treated first with the broad spectrum antibiotic ceftriaxone while they wait for a microbiology lab to identify the causative organism from blood or cerebrospinal fluid samples. Once the organism is identified as N. meningitidis, patients are typically treated with penicillin or ampicillin, antibiotics with a narrower spectrum of activity that’s less likely to lead to ceftriaxone resistance. Family members and other close contacts are often prophylactically treated with an antibiotic called ciprofloxacin.

Because N. meningitidis has historically been sensitive to these antibiotics, most laboratories do not perform tests to confirm drug susceptibility, Dr. Campos says. But the protocol at Children’s National is to screen these isolates for penicillin and ampicillin resistance with a rapid 5-minute test. The isolate from Dr. Taormina’s five-month-old patient – a previously healthy infant from Maryland who came to the Children’s National emergency room after six days of fever and congestion – yielded surprising results: N. meningitidis grown from the patient’s blood was positive for beta-lactamase, an enzyme that destroys the active component in the family of antibiotics that includes penicillin and ampicillin. This isolate was also found resistant to ciprofloxacin.

“The lab used a rapid test, and after just a few minutes, it was positive,” Dr. Campos says. “We did it again to make sure it was accurate, and the results were reproducible. That’s when we knew we needed to share this finding with the public health authorities.”

Dr. Campos, Dr. Taormina and their colleagues sent samples of the antibiotic-resistant bacteria first to the Washington, D.C. Public Health Laboratory and the Maryland Department of Health, and later to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). When the CDC asked other state laboratories to send their own N. meningitidis samples to be tested, 33 were positive for beta-lactamase. And like the bacterium isolated from Dr. Taormina’s patient, 11 of these were also resistant to ciprofloxacin.

“These bacteria wouldn’t have been susceptible to the common antibiotics that we would normally use for this infection,” Dr. Taormina says, “so it’s entirely possible that the infections caused by these bacteria could have been treated inappropriately if doctors used the standard protocol.”

Dr. Taormina says that her patient cleared his infection after staying on ceftriaxone, the original antibiotic he’d been prescribed, for the recommended seven days. His six family members and close contacts were prophylactically treated with rifampin instead of ciprofloxacin.

Although this case had a positive outcome, Dr. Campos says it raises the alarm for other N. meningitidis infections in the U.S., where antibiotic resistance is a growing concern. The danger is even higher in other countries, where the vaccine that children in the U.S. commonly receive for N. meningitidis at age 11 isn’t available.

In the meantime, Drs. Taormina and Campos say their case highlights the need for the appropriate use of antibiotics, known as antibiotic stewardship, which is only possible with close partnerships between infectious disease doctors and microbiology laboratories.

“Our lab and the infectious diseases service at Children’s National interact every day on cases like this to make sure we’re doing the best job we can in diagnosing and managing infections,” says Dr. Campos. “We’re a team.”

Other Children’s National authors who contributed to this case report include infectious disease specialist Benjamin Hanisch, M.D.

US News Badges

Children’s National ranked a top 10 children’s hospital and No. 1 in newborn care nationally by U.S. News

US News Badges

Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C., was ranked No. 7 nationally in the U.S. News & World Report 2020-21 Best Children’s Hospitals annual rankings. This marks the fourth straight year Children’s National has made the list, which ranks the top 10 children’s hospitals nationwide.

In addition, its neonatology program, which provides newborn intensive care, ranked No.1 among all children’s hospitals for the fourth year in a row.

For the tenth straight year, Children’s National also ranked in all 10 specialty services, with seven specialties ranked in the top 10.

“Our number one goal is to provide the best care possible to children. Being recognized by U.S. News as one of the best hospitals reflects the strength that comes from putting children and their families first, and we are truly honored,” says Kurt Newman, M.D., president and CEO of Children’s National Hospital.

“This year, the news is especially meaningful, because our teams — like those at hospitals across the country — faced enormous challenges and worked heroically through a global pandemic to deliver excellent care.”

“Even in the midst of a pandemic, children have healthcare needs ranging from routine vaccinations to life-saving surgery and chemotherapy,” said Ben Harder, managing editor and chief of Health Analysis at U.S. News. “The Best Children’s Hospitals rankings are designed to help parents find quality medical care for a sick child and inform families’ conversations with pediatricians.”

The annual rankings are the most comprehensive source of quality-related information on U.S. pediatric hospitals. The rankings recognize the nation’s top 50 pediatric hospitals based on a scoring system developed by U.S. News. The top 10 scorers are awarded a distinction called the Honor Roll.

The bulk of the score for each specialty service is based on quality and outcomes data. The process includes a survey of relevant specialists across the country, who are asked to list hospitals they believe provide the best care for patients with the most complex conditions.

Below are links to the seven Children’s National specialty services that U.S. News ranked in the top 10 nationally:

The other three specialties ranked among the top 50 were cardiology and heart surgery, gastroenterology and gastro-intestinal surgery, and urology.

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.”

Matt Oetgen and patient

Periop procedures improve scoliosis surgery infection rates

Matt Oetgen and patient

Matthew Oetgen, M.D., MBA, chief of orthopaedics and sports medicine at Children’s National Hospital, presented findings from a study aimed at improving quality and safety for pediatric spinal fusion procedures by reducing surgical site infection rates.

Pediatric orthopaedic surgery as a field is focused on improving quality and value in pediatric spine surgery, especially when it comes to eliminating surgical site infections (SSI). Many studies have documented how and why surgical site infections occur in pediatric spinal fusion patients, however, there is very little data about what approaches are most effective at reducing SSIs for these patients in a sustainable way.

At the Pediatric Orthopaedic Society of North America’s 2020 Annual Meeting, Matthew Oetgen, M.D., MBA, chief of orthopaedic surgery and sports medicine at Children’s National Hospital, presented findings from a long-term single institution study of acute SSI prevention measures.

“These findings give us specific insight into the tactics that are truly preventing, and in our case sometimes even eliminating, SSIs for pediatric scoliosis surgery,” says Dr. Oetgen, who also served on the annual meeting program committee. “By analyzing patient records across more than a decade, we were able to see that some strategies are quite effective, and others, that we thought would move the needle, just don’t.”

The team reviewed medical records and radiographs dating back to 2008 for 1,195 patients who had spinal fusion for scoliosis, including idiopathic scoliosis as well as other forms such as neuromuscular or syndromic scoliosis. Over that period of time, the division of orthopaedics and sports medicine at Children’s National was collaborating with the hospital’s infection control team to achieve several programmatic implementation milestones, including:

  • January 2012: Standardized infection surveillance program
  • July 2013: Standardized perioperative infection control protocols including those for pre-operative surgical site wash, surgical site preparation and administration of antibiotics before and after surgery
  • March 2015: Standardized comprehensive spinal care pathway including protocols for patient temperature control, fluid and blood management, and drain and catheter management

Over the study time period, the team found that SSIs did decrease, but interestingly, the rate did not progressively decrease with each subsequent intervention.

“Instead, we found that the rate went down and was even eliminated for some subgroups when the perioperative infection control protocols were implemented in 2013 and sustained through the study period end,” says Dr. Oetgen. “The other programmatic efforts that started in 2012 and 2015 had no impact on infection rates.”

He also notes that the study’s findings have identified a crucial component in the process for infection control in pediatric spinal surgery—perioperative protocols. “A relatively uncomplicated perioperative infection control protocol did the best job decreasing SSI in spinal fusion. Future efforts to optimize this particular protocol may help improve the rates even further.”

Vittorio Gallo and Mark Batshaw

Children’s National Research Institute releases annual report

Vittorio Gallo and Marc Batshaw

Children’s National Research Institute directors Vittorio Gallo, Ph.D., and Mark Batshaw, M.D.

The Children’s National Research Institute recently released its 2019-2020 academic annual report, titled 150 Years Stronger Through Discovery and Care to mark the hospital’s 150th birthday. Not only does the annual report give an overview of the institute’s research and education efforts, but it also gives a peek in to how the institute has mobilized to address the coronavirus pandemic.

“Our inaugural research program in 1947 began with a budget of less than $10,000 for the study of polio — a pressing health problem for Washington’s children at the time and a pandemic that many of us remember from our own childhoods,” says Vittorio Gallo, Ph.D., chief research officer at Children’s National Hospital and scientific director at Children’s National Research Institute. “Today, our research portfolio has grown to more than $75 million, and our 314 research faculty and their staff are dedicated to finding answers to many of the health challenges in childhood.”

Highlights from the Children’s National Research Institute annual report

  • In 2018, Children’s National began construction of its new Research & Innovation Campus (CNRIC) on 12 acres of land transferred by the U.S. Army as part of the decommissioning of the former Walter Reed Army Medical Center campus. In 2020, construction on the CNRIC will be complete, and in 2012, the Children’s National Research Institute will begin to transition to the campus.
  • In late 2019, a team of scientists led by Eric Vilain, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Center for Genetic Medicine Research, traveled to the Democratic Republic of Congo to collect samples from 60 individuals that will form the basis of a new reference genome data set. The researchers hope their project will generate better reference genome data for diverse populations, starting with those of Central African descent.
  • A gift of $5.7 million received by the Center for Translational Research’s director, Lisa Guay-Woodford, M.D., will reinforce close collaboration between research and clinical care to improve the care and treatment of children with polycystic kidney disease and other inherited renal disorders.
  • The Center for Neuroscience Research’s integration into the infrastructure of Children’s National Hospital has created a unique set of opportunities for scientists and clinicians to work together on pressing problems in children’s health.
  • Children’s National and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases are tackling pediatric research across three main areas of mutual interest: primary immune deficiencies, food allergies and post-Lyme disease syndrome. Their shared goal is to conduct clinical and translational research that improves what we know about those conditions and how we care for children who have them.
  • An immunotherapy trial has allowed a little boy to be a kid again. In the two years since he received cellular immunotherapy, Matthew has shown no signs of a returning tumor — the longest span of time he’s been tumor-free since age 3.
  • In the past 6 years, the 104 device projects that came through the National Capital Consortium for Pediatric Device Innovation accelerator program raised $148,680,256 in follow-on funding.
  • Even though he’s watched more than 500 aspiring physicians pass through the Children’s National pediatric residency program, program director Dewesh Agrawal, M.D., still gets teary at every graduation.

Understanding and treating the novel coronavirus (COVID-19)

In a short period of time, Children’s National Research Institute has mobilized its scientists to address COVID-19, focusing on understanding the virus and advancing solutions to ameliorate the impact today and for future generations. Children’s National Research Institute Director Mark Batshaw, M.D., highlighted some of these efforts in the annual report:

  • Eric Vilain, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Center for Genetic Medicine Research, is looking at whether or not the microbiome of bacteria in the human nasal tract acts as a defensive shield against COVID-19.
  • Catherine Bollard, M.D., MBChB, director of the Center for Cancer and Immunology Research, and her team are seeing if they can “train” T cells to attack the invading coronavirus.
  • Sarah Mulkey, M.D., Ph.D., an investigator in the Center for Neuroscience Research and the Fetal Medicine Institute, is studying the effects of, and possible interventions for, coronavirus on the developing brain.

You can view the entire Children’s National Research Institute academic annual report online.

CHD global outcomes set

New CHD global outcomes set released

The International Consortium for Health Outcomes Measurement (ICHOM) announced the release of a Congenital Heart Disease Standard Set (CHDSS) in late April 2020.

Gerard Martin, M.D., FAAP, FACC, FAHA, cardiologist at Children’s National Hospital, chaired the working group and contributed to the standards’ writing. In ICHOM‘s press release, he noted that, “Having a global set of outcomes that matters most to adult patients and parents of children with congenital heart disease will provide a road map for healthcare professionals and organizations engaged in setting care strategies for this population around the world. I would like to acknowledge the efforts of the Working Group and ICHOM staff for their incredible effort on this project.”

The CHDSS is a minimum core set of standards, comprised of Patient, Parent, and Clinician – Reported Outcome Measures already being collected by most practices in routine clinical care. The CHDSS measures 14 outcomes under the ICHOM framework for comprehensive outcomes measurement. These overarching domains are Overall Health, Social Health, Mental Health, and Physical Health.

Learn more about the CDHSS, the contributors and read the ICHOM press release.

CHD global outcomes set

The CHDSS measures 14 outcomes under the ICHOM overarching domains of Overall Health, Social Health, Mental Health, and Physical Health.

Patients and staff at the Uganda Heart Institute

Lifesaving heart surgeries for RHD complications in Uganda go on despite COVID-19

Patients and staff at the Uganda Heart Institute

Patients and staff at the Uganda Heart Institute for RHD-related heart surgeries in Uganda, March 2020. These patients were originally scheduled as part of the cancelled medical mission, but UHI cardiovascular surgeon successfully managed these cases without the support of the mission doctors from the U.S.

In early March as countries around the globe began to wrestle with how best to tackle the spread of COVID-19, a group of doctors, nurses, researchers and other medical staff from Children’s National Hospital were wrestling with a distinct set of challenges: What to do about the 10 Ugandan children and adults who were currently scheduled for lifesaving heart surgery (and the countless others who would benefit from the continued training of the local heart surgery team) to correct complications of rheumatic heart disease (RHD) during an impending medical mission in the country.

Rheumatic heart disease impacts over 39 million people globally and causes nearly 300,000 deaths per year. RHD is the result of frequent, untreated streptococcal throat infections in childhood that ultimately cause the body’s immune system to repeatedly damage heart valves. It is completely preventable, yet the majority of the world’s children still live in impoverished and overcrowded conditions that predispose them to RHD. Most patients present with advanced valvular heart disease. For example, in Uganda, an RHD registry includes over 600 children with clinical RHD, of which nearly 40% die within four years and the median survival time from enrollment in the registry is only nine months. For these patients, heart surgery is the only viable solution for long-term survival and normal quality of life.

Patricia: 9-year-old from Gulu

Patricia: 9-year-old from Gulu (northern Uganda), had mitral valve replacement and was doing well on a recent follow-up visit at her home.

The scheduled trip from Washington was part of a nearly 20-year partnership** between doctors, nurses, researchers and other medical staff in the United States, including Craig Sable, M.D., associate chief of cardiology, and and Pranava Sinha, M.D.,pediatric cardiovascular surgeon, at Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C., and the Uganda Heart Institute in Kampala, Uganda. The partnership aims to tackle RHD head-on. It provides surgical skill transfer, allows for treatment of more complex patients, and increases sustainable surgical capacity for Uganda’s RHD patients over time. As a result, over the last 15 years more than 1,000 children have received lifesaving heart surgery in Uganda, with the Uganda Heart Institute (UHI) performing one to two heart valve surgeries every two weeks over the last few years.

Jackline: 12-year-old from Gulu

Jackline: 12-year-old from Gulu, had mitral valve repair and aortic valve replacement. Jackline and Patricia were diagnosed through one of our research programs and benefit from our novel telehealth program, which helps connect patients from remote parts of Uganda to specialists at UHI.

COVID-19 was changing the current plan, however. Travel between countries was limited, and the team from the U.S. wouldn’t have been permitted to leave the U.S. and return according to schedule. The trip, and the support teams who were scheduled to arrive to help with the surgeries, were cancelled. The U.S. team members who had already arrived in Uganda were sent home after helping their UHI colleagues set up and prepare for the surgeries as much as possible. Knowing that patients and families were counting on the surgery mission to go forward after waiting for months or years to have surgery for heart valve disease, UHI decided not to cancel the majority of the surgeries. Instead, for the first time, they planned and successfully completed five valve-related cases in a single week – several of them quite complex. The cardiologists and cardiac surgeons from Children’s National who were supposed to be in-country for these procedures were forced to limit their in person assistance to the set-up activities the week prior to surgery and telehealth consult during the procedures.

“It was hard not to be able to stay  and work with the UHI team to help these families,” says Dr. Sable. “But we are so proud of the UHI team for meeting this challenge on their own. We knew they had the skills to perform at this volume and complexity. It’s a proud moment to see the team accomplish this major milestone, and to see the patients they cared for thrive.”

The patients are the most important outcome: The five who had successful open-heart surgery are all doing well, either on their way to recovery or already discharged to their communities, where they will, for the first time in memory, be able to play, exercise and go to school or work.

Longer term, this success demonstrates the UHI medical team’s ability to manage greater surgical capacity even when surgical missions from the U.S. resume. The partnership’s goal is to complete at least 1,000 annual operations (both pediatric and adult), with the majority being performed by the local team. Having this capacity available will mean the difference between life and death for many children and adults who have RHD in Uganda and the surrounding countries.

**This work is supported by the Edwards Life Sciences/Thoracic Surgery Foundation, the Emirates Airline Foundation, Samaritan’s Purse Children’s Heart Project and Gift of Life International.

preterm baby

Validating a better way to stratify BPD risk in vulnerable newborns

preterm baby

Factoring in the total number of days that extremely preterm infants require supplemental oxygen and tracking this metric for weeks longer than usual improves clinicians’ ability to predict respiratory outcomes according to bronchopulmonary dysplasia severity.

Factoring in the total number of days that extremely preterm infants require supplemental oxygen and tracking this metric for weeks longer than usual improves clinicians’ ability to predict respiratory outcomes according to bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD) severity, a research team led by Children’s National Hospital writes in Scientific Reports. What’s more, the researchers defined a brand-new category (level IV) for newborns who receive supplemental oxygen more than 120 days as a reliable way to predict which infants are at the highest risk of returning to the hospital due to respiratory distress after discharge.

About 1 in 10 U.S. infants is born preterm, before 37 weeks gestation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That includes extremely preterm infants who weigh about 1 lb. at birth. These very low birthweight newborns have paper thin skin, frail hearts and lungs that are not yet mature enough to deliver oxygen throughout the body as needed. Thanks to advances in neocritical care, an increasing number of them survive prematurity, and many develop BPD, a chronic lung disease characterized by abnormal development of the lungs and pulmonary vasculature.

“About half of the babies born prematurely will come back to the hospital within the first year of life with a respiratory infection. The key is identifying them and, potentially, preventing complications in this high-risk population,” says Gustavo Nino, M.D., a Children’s National pulmonologist and the study’s lead author.

For decades, the most common way to stratify BPD risk in these vulnerable newborns has been to see if they require supplemental oxygen at 36 weeks corrected gestational age.

“The problem with this classification is it doesn’t take into account the very premature babies who are on oxygen for much longer than other babies. So, we asked the question: Can we continue risk stratification beyond 36 weeks in order to identify a subset of babies who are at much higher risk of complications,” Dr. Nino says.

The longitudinal cohort study enrolled 188 infants born extremely preterm who were admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at Children’s National and tracked their data for at least 12 months after discharge. The team used a multidimensional approach that tracked duration of supplemental oxygen during the newborns’ NICU stay as well as scoring lung imaging as an independent marker of BPD severity. To validate the findings, these U.S.-born newborns were matched with 130 infants who were born preterm and hospitalized at two NICUs located in Bogotá, Colombia.

“Babies who are born very preterm and require oxygen beyond 120 days should have expanded ventilation of the lungs and cardiovascular pulmonary system before going home,” he notes. “We need to identify these newborns and optimize their management before they are discharged.”

And, the babies with level IV BPD risk need a different type of evaluation because the complications they experience – including pulmonary hypertension – place them at the highest risk of developing sleep apnea and severe respiratory infection, especially during the first year of life.

“The earlier we identify them, the better their outcome is likely to be,” Dr. Nino says. “We really need to change the risk stratification so we don’t call them all ‘severe’ and treat them the same when there is a subset of newborns who clearly are at a much higher risk for experiencing respiratory complications after hospital discharge.”

In addition to Dr. Nino, Children’s National study co-authors include Awais Mansoor, Ph.D., staff scientist at the Sheikh Zayed Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation (SZI); Geovanny F. Perez, M.D., pediatric pulmonologist; Maria Arroyo, M.D., pulmonologist; Xilei Xu Chen, M.D., postdoctoral fellow; Jered Weinstock, pediatric pulmonary fellow; Kyle Salka, MS, research technician; Mariam Said, M.D., neonatologist, and Marius George Linguraru, DPhil, MA, MSc, SZI principal investigator and senior author. Additional co-authors include Ranniery Acuña-Cordero, Universidad Militar Nueva Granada, Bogotá, Colombia; and Monica P. Sossa-Briceño and Carlos E. Rodríguez-Martínez, both of Universidad Nacional de Colombia.

Funding for research described in this post was provided by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) under award Nos. HL145669, AI130502 and HL141237. In addition, the NIH has awarded Dr. Nino an RO1 grant to continue this research.

NICU evacuation training baby on a stretcher

Innovative NICU training lauded as ‘best article’ by national journal

NICU evacuation training baby on a stretcher

“Fires, tornadoes and other natural disasters are outside of our team’s control. But it is within our team’s control to train neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) staff to master this necessary skill,” says Lisa Zell, BSN, a clinical educator at Children’s National Hospital.

Research into how to create a robust emergency evacuation preparedness plan and continually train staff that was led by Zell was lauded by editors of The Journal of Perinatal & Neonatal Nursing. The journal named the study the “best article” for the neonatal section that the prestigious journal published in 2018-19.

“We all hope for the best no matter what the situation, but we also need to extensively plan for the worse,” says Billie Lou Short, M.D., chief of the division of neonatology at Children’s National. “I’m proud that Lisa Zell and co-authors received this much-deserved national recognition on behalf of the nation’s No. 1 NICU.”

Educators worked with a diverse group within Children’s National to design and implement periodic evacuation simulations.

In addition to Zell and Lamia Soghier, M.D., FAAP, CHSE, Children’s National NICU medical unit director, study co-authors include Carmen Blake, BSN; Dawn Brittingham, MSN; and Ann-Marie Brown, MSN.

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View photos showing how disaster training occurs at Children’s National