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Pediatric Cardiology: Pediatric heart failure and transplant program offers medical innovations and excellent care


CU-Peds Heart FailureUCLA’s Pediatric Heart Transplant and Heart Failure Program is recognized as one of the leading centers in the nation. Renowned for its heart transplant research and its long history of performing heart transplants, UCLA developed many of the clinical protocols used in pediatric heart programs around the country and offers its pediatric patients the latest medical innovations for the treatment of heart failure.

Aggressive treatment

UCLA’s multidisciplinary surgical/medical team aggressively treats pediatric heart failure. Advanced surgical and catheter-based procedures as well as pacemaker therapies can help many children avoid or delay the need for a heart transplant. Children requiring hospitalization receive treatment at the Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA, ranked among the best children’s hospitals in the country.

For pediatric patients with severe heart failure, UCLA offers two kinds of mechanical support systems: extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), which is used in emergencies involving acute heart failure, and implanted ventricular assist devices (VADs), including a new child-sized device known as the Berlin heart, which can be used for up to a year. These highly successful mechanical support devices have allowed many pediatric patients to survive the wait for a donor heart.

Multidisciplinary team

Each child referred to the heart failure program undergoes a thorough evaluation that can include the expertise of a large number of specialists including pediatric cardiologists, pediatric cardiothoracic surgeons, nurse practitioners, transplant coordinators and social workers. Because children undergoing heart transplantation and treatment for heart failure are at high risk for developing diabetes, gum disease and depression, UCLA’s team also includes nutritionists, dentists, psychiatrists and child development specialists.

Program history

In 1984, UCLA surgeons performed their first pediatric heart transplant, putting them at the forefront of what was then a new life-saving option for patients with end-stage heart disease. In recent years, the Pediatric Heart Transplant Program has enjoyed rapid growth, performing 15 to 25 transplants annually. Since 1984, more than 250 children have received heart transplants and nearly 2,000 heart transplant patients have received care at UCLA.

Advanced surgical techniques for complex cases

UCLA’s Pediatric Heart Transplant and Heart Failure Program has extensive experience in caring for the most complex patients and their families. In recent years, UCLA surgeons have performed an increasing number of multi-organ pediatric transplants, including the only pediatric heart-liver transplant in Southern California and four pediatric heart-kidney transplants. They also have vast experience with transplants on patients with complex congenital heart disease.

Despite the number of high-risk pediatric patients who receive heart and rare multi-organ transplants at the center, UCLA’s one-year patient and graft survival rates places it among the most successful centers nationally.

Innovative home therapies

Children in need of a heart transplant can spend months in the hospital receiving heart failure treatment. UCLA, however, has the expertise and resources to allow many pediatric patients waiting for donor hearts to receive heart failure treatment in their own homes under the supervision of home care nurses.

Cutting-edge science

UCLA’s pathologists are internationally recognized for developing breakthrough diagnostic tests for transplant rejection. Their expertise in tissue typing and immunogenetics has helped our physicians develop effective therapies for patients with immune complications.

Advanced technologies like “virtual crossmatching,” which determine tissue compatibility between donors and patients who may be located thousands of miles apart, can reduce a patient’s wait time for a donor heart.

Early referrals encouraged

Even if their symptoms are controlled with medication, children suffering from heart defects or heart disease who experience shortness of breath, failure to grow or an inability to exercise should receive an evaluation by UCLA’s heart failure team as soon as possible.

“Our goal is to get patients in here as early as possible so we can prevent a need for a transplant if at all possible,” says Juan Alejos, M.D., medical director of the Pediatric Heart Transplant Program.

Getting a child with a failing heart on the heart transplant list is a complicated and lengthy process that involves evaluating everything from a child’s medical condition to the support structure within the family.

“A child with heart disease is never too well to see a transplant doctor, to get a second opinion or to get educated about the process, but you can end up too sick to get a transplant,” says Nancy Halnon, M.D., assistant professor in the Division of Pediatric Cardiology. “If you have a heart that’s likely to fail in the future, you need to be proactive and plan ahead.”

Team Members

Juan Alejos, M.D.
Medical Director Pediatric Heart Transplant,
Cardiomyopathy and Pulmonary Hypertension

Nancy Halnon, M.D.
Assistant Professor Division of Pediatric Cardiology

Hillel Laks, M.D.
Chancellor’s Professor of Surgery
Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery

Gregory Perens, M.D.
Assistant Professor Division of Pediatric Cardiology

Brian Reemtsen, M.D.
Chief of Congenital Heart Surgery,
Surgical Director, Pediatric Heart Transplant

Eric Sung, DDS
Pediatric Dentistry

Alison Amegatcher, RN, CCTC
Pediatric Heart Transplant Coordinator

Caron Burch, RN, MSN, CCTC
Nurse Manager, Pre-Pediatric Heart Transplant Coordinator
Heart & Lung Transplant Program

Elan Howell, RN, BSN, CCRN
UCLA VAD Coordinator

Newman Huie, RN, BSN
UCLA VAD Coordinator

Alicia Khodakarami
Administrative Assistant

Diana Saikali, MS, RD, CSP
Pediatric Dietitian

Lana Wohlschlegel, MSW
Clinical Social Worker

Contact Information
UCLA Heart and Lung Transplant Office
1001 Westwood Blvd, Suite 200
Los Angeles, CA 90095
(310) 794 2934 Appointments
(310) 794-2934 Referrals
(310) 825 6068 Main office
(310) 794 2962 Fax
(310) 794 2964 Fax
(310) 825-6301 Emergency after business hours

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