Learning that your child has a congenital heart condition - and that they will need surgery - can be overwhelming. It's natural to feel worried about your child's health, but you shouldn't also have to feel confused about finding exceptional care. The clinicians in the Heart Center at Boston Children's Hospital can help provide answers and ease your concerns. Our team put together this checklist to help guide you through the decision-making process.

Here’s what to look for:

1. An experienced surgical team

When it comes to heart surgery, usually quantity and quality go hand in hand. That’s because the more frequently a surgical team performs a certain procedure, the more opportunity there is to perfect the necessary skills. You’ll want to understand a program’s overall case volume and the case volume for the specific procedure your child needs.

2. A dedicated CICU team

Following heart surgery, your child will recover in the cardiac intensive care unit (CICU). A dedicated CICU and support team helps ensure that they will be closely monitored by experts with specific training in this area. A designated intensivist, a doctor who specializes in critical care, in the pediatric CICU means there is always someone immediately available to care for your child during their recovery after surgery. The CICU should also be equipped with pediatric devices and monitors that ensure immediate help is always available, such as extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, or ECMO.

Tip: Boston Children’s CICU has one of the largest ECMO programs in the country, as well as over 300 cardiac-focused nurses. A pediatric cardiac intensivist is onsite 24 hours a day, seven days a week to care for your child in Boston Children’s CICU.

3. Many hands on deck

The size of a surgical program is crucial to ensuring your child receives ample coverage during and after surgery. More surgeons and specialized staff mean more expertise and more sub-specialties — and when surgeons collaborate, patients receive the best possible care. If your child undergoes a surgical procedure, they should also be supported by a full team that includes both dedicated perfusionists, health care professionals who operate a heart-lung machine, and certified pediatric cardiac anesthesiologists. These skilled professionals help keep things running smoothly in the operating room and ensure your child’s well-being throughout the experience.

4. Innovative care

New technology and surgical procedures can improve the long-term health of children with congenital heart disease — but they’re not available everywhere. A heart center at the forefront of research and development is more likely to have experience with the latest technology and surgical techniques.

Tip: For 150 years, Boston Children’s has been leading the charge in new approaches to pediatric heart health. From performing the first successful fetal cardiac intervention to developing one of the first Complex Biventricular Repair programs, we are the program to turn to for many of the latest life-saving and life-changing cardiac innovations.

5. Exceptional outcomes

Every child is different and may have multiple conditions that may make interventions complex. The large Society of Thoracic Surgeons (STS) Congenital Heart Surgery Database rates every kind of congenital heart procedure on a difficulty scale of one to five, called STAT levels. Participating in this database allows individual hospitals to compare their outcomes with national data. Checking this database can also help families understand how well a specific hospital is performing against the national average.

Tip: For every hospital that participates, STS generates an expected mortality rate based on the type of procedure and complexity levels of the patient population. If an institution’s mortality rate is equal to or lower than the STS projection, that means that the program is performing well. At Boston Children’s, we not only follow STAT, we also closely track the outcomes of the most complex and innovative procedures as these often cannot be accurately categorized by the current STAT system.

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