Making Pediatric Surgery Safer, Seamless, and More Precise
By Ruth Schechter
You may not hear the ocean’s roar when you walk into an operating room at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital, but there is a sea change in surgery under way nonetheless. Day and night, weekdays and holidays, highly skilled surgeons and scientists are developing, refining, and teaching procedures designed to make surgery safer, more effective, and less traumatic for children and families.
“Pediatric surgery is evolving to keep up with the needs of our patients,” says Thomas Krummel, MD, the Susan B. Ford Surgeon in Chief at Packard Children’s and the Emile Holman Professor and Chair of Surgery at Stanford School of Medicine. “All the new procedures and therapies—in almost all surgical subspecialties—are developed and organized around ways that are less invasive. It makes a big improvement for a child’s care.”
Packard surgeons are skilled in a full range of specialties unavailable at most children’s hospitals, from repairing congenital heart abnormalities in a newborn—complex surgeries involving experts across multiple disciplines—to more common outpatient procedures. Teams of surgeons, anesthesiologists, nurses, hospitalists, and other specialists conducted more than 5,200 procedures last year, developing expertise that enables them to apply and hone their skills in both routine and challenging practices.
“Everybody prioritizes the good of the child,” says Krummel. “No problem is too big, and no problem is too small. That same mentality pervades outpatient procedures as well as the most complex challenges.”
Newly recruited specialists have brought unique skills to the mix. And state-of-the-art facilities dedicated to the care of children, such as the Ford Family Surgery Center, allow surgeons to operate with unprecedented safety, precision, and effectiveness. As Packard Children’s refines its plans for expansion, its new operating rooms will streamline services for young patients, with integrated surgical, imaging, pre-op, and recovery suites to provide a seamless transition of care.
In recognition of its strengths in coordinating complex care, Packard Children’s recently was accredited by the American College of Surgeons as a Level II pediatric trauma center. Trauma—a bicycle accident, a fall from a swing, a sports injury—is the leading cause of death in children older than 6 months. “If you care about children, a commitment to trauma care is essential,” says Krummel. “And good trauma care requires a carefully choreographed multidisciplinary team.”
Packard’s pursuit of surgical innovation benefits from its proximity to Stanford University and to the Stanford School of Medicine, which encourages communication among specialists in fields that might not normally interact. This close alignment between lab and practice promotes unique approaches to making surgery less invasive and encouraging faster recovery. Whether it’s biodesigners developing instruments sized especially for children, or stem cell researchers exploring strategies to prevent scarring or regrow malfunctioning organs, physician-scientists collaborate closely to apply research breakthroughs from the bench to the bedside.
“All our research starts with a fundamental question: What is the critical unmet need?” says Michael Longaker, MD, FACS, director of the Hagey Laboratory for Pediatric Regenerative Medicine and the Deane P. and Louise Mitchell Professor. “From stem cell biology to tissue engineering to photonics, a deep commitment to biomedical research has encouraged advances.”
Close ties with Silicon Valley entrepreneurs in biotechnology, robotics, and high-tech enterprises also further the work, Longaker says. “There’s a mindset of collaboration and of innovation in this area, and Packard benefits from that culture: People are willing to take a risk to make a major impact. The key is how to make those advances widely available.”
This collaborative approach promotes the multidisciplinary teamwork and thoughtful integration of technology that keeps Packard surgeons at the forefront of change.
“We have the facilities in place, and we have some of the finest specialists in the country, with vast and diverse experience and a willingness to embrace innovation,” says Craig Albanese, MD, the John A. and Cynthia Fry Gunn Endowed Director of Pediatric Surgical Services. “We have a special opportunity here to take pediatric surgery to a whole new level. There will be tremendous changes ahead that will benefit children and families in our care.”