February 23, 2016

22416lifesaving640When Dr. Natasha Afonso clipped in to a bike for a spin class on a recent Thursday evening, she didn’t know the skills she uses each day to treat patients in the CVICU would mean the difference between life and death for a fellow rider. Toward the end of the 45-minute, high-intensity class, Afonso heard commotion behind her as riders were being ushered out of the room. When she turned around she saw 50-year-old Scott Corron lying motionless on the ground.

She jumped off her bike and found Corron cold, clammy and pulseless. Because she didn’t see him fall, she thought he may be dehydrated, but because he wasn’t breathing Afonso immediately started CPR.

“It’s surprising to see someone go into cardiac arrest outside of the hospital setting,” said Afonso. “I didn’t have time to get my own heart rate down much less think about what caused Scott to stop breathing, so I started compressions.”

When the paramedics arrived 15 minutes after Afonso started CPR, she assisted with quickly placing the electrode pads on him. The paramedics shocked Corron before resuming compressions and he was fairly alert as the ambulance whisked him off to the hospital.

Corron, who has ironically worked in cardiology device sales for more than 20 years, credited Afonso’s quick thinking and action which has led to a full recovery.

“Words aren’t enough to thank Dr. Afonso for saving my life,” said Corron. “I hope to be back on the bike soon and am so thankful she decided to take a spin class that night.”

To see the reunion between Afonso and Corron, watch this recent NBC 2 KPRC story.

February 16, 2016

A year ago, Knatalye and Adeline Mata lay on an operating table at Texas Children’s Hospital conjoined from the chest to the pelvis. For the next 26 hours, a team of surgeons and support staff separated the girls in an historic and intricate procedure meticulously choreographed to ensure that each step of the process would lead to and support the steps to come. Throughout the procedure, the Mata family stood by, waiting and praying for good news.

Just before 10 a.m. on February 18, 2015 the family counted their prayers as answered when they saw their girls, apart for the first time in adjacent rooms in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, where they were cared for by a team of specialized nurses. Since then, the almost 2-year-old twins have been discharged from the hospital and are living relatively normal lives in Littlefield, Texas with their parents Elysse and John Eric, 6-year-old brother Azariah and 5-month-old sister, Mia.

“The girls are both doing awesome,” said Dr. Darrell Cass, one of the lead surgeons in the separation case. “Neither have experienced any complications and both are making steady progress.”

Knatalye is beginning to walk, talk and eat by mouth. Adeline is meeting milestones as well. Her lungs are continuing to improve and she is slowly being weaned from ventilator support. Both girls are still undergoing physical and occupational therapy.

Several members of the medical staff involved in the girl’s care got to see how much Adeline and Knatalye have grown and how far they’ve come during a recent visit the Mata family made to Texas Children’s for follow-up appointments with pediatric subspecialists monitoring the twins’ health and development.

Aimee Renaudin, one of Adeline and Knatalye’s primary nurses in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, said she is amazed that the girls are doing so well.

“You would never know how they started off their lives together,” she said. “Elysee and Eric have taken such good care of them.”

Dr. Oluyinka Olutoye, the other lead surgeon in the separation case, said it’s a blessing to see how far Adeline and Knatalye have come.

“It’s always a joy to see the changes that have gone on,” he said. “They’ve gone from just being little babies to now trying to walk and talk and interact with you.”

John Eric said his daughters have far exceeded his expectations and that he and Elysee are enjoying being able to care for the girls at home.

“It’s nice to be able to have all of us together and to be able to wake up and know that they’re there,” Elysee said. “It’s fun to be able to be mom and dad, which we didn’t get to do for the first 10 months of their lives.”

The Mata family will return to Texas Children’s this summer for a checkup. During that visit, surgeons will operate on Knatalye, removing the metal struts used to stabilize her rib cage and to close her chest wall.

To read more about their journey click here. See photos from the Mata family’s latest visit to Texas Children’s below.

21716Texansinside640On February 10, in honor of Heart Month, Houston Texans Brian Peters and Jon Weeks, Houston Texans Cheerleaders and TORO brought smiles to patients at Texas Children’s Heart Center. The players, cheerleaders and TORO also got into the Valentine’s Day spirit as they posed for shots in a photo booth, made cards, signed autographs and brought smiles to patient families. To see more pictures from the Texans visit, see below. To watch a video of the visit, click here.

An armadillo with thick, long eyelashes whistles as she notices a problem with the blood flow in a child’s heart. Almost immediately an army of robot-like caregivers race into the hospital room and fix the problem.

No, this is not your typical medical setting. This is an imaginary world made to help children with heart problems better understand their diagnosis and potential treatment options. Created by a team led by Chief of Cardiology Dr. Daniel Penny, the series of almost 40 animated videos features Ruby, an armadillo; Beau, a bison; and a group of caregivers called Blings.

Ruby and Beau’s role in the videos is to identify the problem with a child’s heart, call in the Blings for help and explain – in very simple terms – what’s happening and how it’s affecting the patient. The Blings fix whatever is wrong while hopping in and out of colorful cars and using a cadre of MacGyver-like tools.

“The aim of our project is to improve the health literacy of the children and parents who come to us with heart disease,” Penny said. “If we can empower them through information, we can likely improve their treatment outcome and overall quality of life.”

To effectively communicate complex issues such as ventricular septal defect and patent ductus arteriosis, Penny is working with Michael Liddy, a friend and Australian animator, to script the 4- to 7-minute videos and create their characters, sound effects and musical score, all of which are done very intentionally and with the young age of the viewer in mind.

An additional bonus to the production of the videos, which is being funded by a grant from ExxonMobil, is the voices of Ruby and Beau are recorded at Texas Children’s Hospital by employees Hasti Taghi and Dr. Stuart Hall.

“We were very lucky to get the voices of Ruby and Beau in house,” Penny said. “They definitely add a special touch.”

To date, six of the videos in the series have been completed and were unveiled at a February 15 red carpet premier at Texas Children’s Pavilion for Women (click here to view a video). Doctors, patients and families across the organization and beyond can access the videos via Texas Children’s website at http://www.texaschildrens.org/hearteducation.

Penny and his team will continue to add to the animated series and work on another series of videos that educate patients on certain types of routine procedures done at the average heart center.

“We hope that having a program like this any child who enters a heart center will be able to get a feel for what they are going to experience,” Penny said.

February 8, 2016



Bench and Bedside is a digest of the previous month’s stories about the clinical and academic activities of our physicians and scientists. We welcome your submissions and feedback.

January 5

Zoghbi to receive Vanderbilt prize in Biomedical Science

2116zoghbilab300Dr. Huda Zoghbi, professor of molecular and human genetics at Baylor College of Medicine, and director of the Jan and Dan Duncan Neurological Research Institute at Texas Children’s, will be honored with the 2015 Vanderbilt Prize in Biomedical Science. This award is given by the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine to recognize women scientists with a stellar record of research accomplishment who have also mentored other women in science. More

January 5

Second location of The Center for Children and Women celebrates milestone

2116TheCenterAnniv300Texas Children’s Health Plan recently celebrated the first anniversary of The Center for Children and Women in Southwest Houston. During the past 12 months, the Center has provided care to more than 5,800 patients, including 356 births, demonstrating The Center’s remarkable footprint in the community. More




January 12

Dr. Sanjeev Vasudevan selected for Baylor Young Alumni Award

Dr. Sanjeev Vasudevan will receive the 2016 Young Alumnus Award from the Baylor College of Medicine Alumni Association. Vasudevan is a pediatric surgeon and researcher specializing in pediatric cancers such as neuroblastoma, liver cancer, renal tumors and sarcomas. More

January 12

Harpavat receives ASSLD award for study on newborn screening tool to detect biliary atresia earlier

Dr. Sanjiv Harpavat, a pediatric gastroenterologist at Texas Children’s and Baylor College of Medicine, received the 2015 Jan Albrecht Clinical and Translational Research Award in Liver Diseases from the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases (AASLD) Foundation. His study titled, “Assessment of a Novel Newborn Screening Tool for Biliary Atresia,” explores a new strategy to detect infants with biliary atresia earlier. More

January 12

Pediatric Surgeon Dr. Sundeep Keswani awarded visiting professorship

Dr. Sundeep Keswani, pediatric surgeon, was chosen by the Association for Academic Surgery to receive the 2016 International Visiting Professorship Award to attend the Columbia Surgical Association Congress in Bogota, Colombia, in August 2016. Keswani is the principal investigator for the Texas Children’s Laboratory for Regenerative Tissue Repair. More

January 12

Family Fertility Center advances innovative research to improve IVF process

2116FFC300From exploring the metabolic factors impacting egg quality to the genetics of embryo implantation, Family Fertility Center researchers at Texas Children’s Pavilion for Women are engaged in several fascinating studies to help infertile couples achieve successful pregnancy outcomes. Read about the various studies in progress. More



January 19

Three Texas Children’s Cancer Center researchers receive prestigious ASH awards

The American Society of Hematology (ASH) recognized three researchers from Texas Children’s Cancer Center and Baylor College of Medicine for their work in advancing our understanding of disease pathogenesis and exploring novel innovative approaches for the treatment of pediatric cancers. More

January 19

Texas Children’s uses advanced orthopedic imaging, less radiation exposure

2116EOS300Texas Children’s is the first pediatric hospital in the southwest to offer advanced orthopedic imaging that provides full body, 3-D views of a patient’s bone structure using less radiation. Because of the low radiation dose, EOS imaging is beneficial for orthopedic patients with scoliosis and other spinal deformities who require frequent imaging to monitor disease progression. More


January 26

Texas Children’s Hospital welcomes expert pediatric hand surgeon

Texas Children’s Hospital is excited to welcome Dr. William Pederson, a highly-regarded pediatric hand surgeon, to the Department of Surgery. Pederson, whose appointment was effective in January, also is a professor of surgery and pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine. More

January 26

Texas Children’s Heart Center welcomes trio of cardiologists

Texas Children’s Heart Center has welcomed three new pediatric cardiologists to the team. Drs. Tobias Schlingmann, Betul Yilmaz and Justin Zachariah joined Texas Children’s in July. More

February 2, 2016

2316DrJacotinside175Bioengineers at Texas Children’s Hospital and Rice University have won a National Institutes of Health grant to develop a new generation of patches to repair the damaged hearts of infants.

The $1.9 million, 5-year grant will allow Jeffrey Jacot and his team to take the next steps in a long-running drive to improve the survival rates of such infants, many of whom are diagnosed in utero and require surgery soon after birth.

Jacot, who has appointments at Rice and Texas Children’s, and his colleagues will test patches that encourage a child’s own heart cells to invade and, over time, regenerate tissue to repair birth defects.

The multilayer patches include a rudimentary preformed vasculature – a blood-vessel system – that encourages cells to migrate. Over time, as the cells form organ tissue, the patches degrade and leave the body. The new tissue will ideally grow with the heart and have no fibrous scar that could interfere with its normal operation.

“Our goal is to have something that blends in with the tissue, so you can’t tell it’s a patch,” Jacot said. “It grows with the rest of the heart, and you don’t have these issues that you have with a piece of plastic.”

Jacot said cell survival in forming tissue has limited the effectiveness of such scaffolds until now. “We think if it has a good vasculature, it can recruit the cells that it needs,” he said. Preliminary studies show the immature vasculature hooks into the heart’s existing system “fairly quickly without needing to be surgically attached,” he said.

The study initially will be geared toward infants who suffer from Tetralogy of Fallot, a birth defect in which blood bypasses the lungs. The problem occurs in 4.7 of every 10,000 infants born in the United States. Cell-free patches are currently used to repair the damage, but they neither degrade nor grow with the infant and often need to be replaced, Jacot said.

“The surgeons we work with feel like there needs to be something better,” Jacot said. “What they see is that 10 to 20 percent of patches need to be replaced over time for various reasons, like if it has a severe strain or calcifies.”

The proposed new patches consist of a polyurethane core strong enough to handle sutures and the constant stress provided by a beating heart, surrounded by a porous gel that will welcome cells from neighboring heart tissue.

The lab had already derived endothelial cells and mesenchymal stem cells from amniotic fluid stem cells and determined that combining them in a hydrogel scaffold induces the formation of a rudimentary vascular structure. The use of readily available amniotic stem cells from a newborn’s own mother cuts the risk of tissue rejection, Jacot said.

January 26, 2016

12716Threecardiologistsinside640Texas Children’s Heart Center has welcomed three new pediatric cardiologists to the team. Drs. Tobias Schlingmann, Betul Yilmaz and Justin Zachariah joined Texas Children’s in July.

“We are thrilled to welcome three new cardiologists,” said Dr. Daniel Penny, chief of cardiology at Texas Children’s Hospital and section head and professor of pediatrics-cardiology at Baylor College of Medicine. “Drs. Schlingmann, Yilmaz and Zachariah bring expertise which will help us continue to remain a preeminent cardiology program and better serve our patients and their families.”

Schlingmann, who also serves as an assistant professor of pediatrics-cardiology at Baylor College of Medicine, received his undergraduate and medical degrees from the University of Hamburg, Germany. He completed his residency in pediatrics and fellowship in pediatric cardiology at Boston Children’s Hospital. Furthermore, he completed a senior fellowship in non-invasive cardiac imaging at Boston Children’s Hospital. Schlingmann’s clinical interests include the diagnosis and treatment of cardiovascular disease in infants, children, and adolescents in both the inpatient and outpatient settings.

Yilmaz, who also serves as an assistant professor of pediatrics-cardiology at Baylor, earned a combined Bachelor of Science and medical degree at Istanbul University. She did basic research in genetics at the University of Chicago Medical Center and completed a pediatric residency at Washington University in St. Louis and a pediatric cardiology fellowship at Columbia-Cornell University Medical Centers. She also completed an advanced imaging/fetal cardiology fellowship at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. Yilmaz’s clinical interests include utilization of advanced cardiac imaging modalities such as echocardiography and fetal echocardiography to improve the diagnosis and management of congenital heart disease in fetuses and in pediatric population.

Zachariah, who also serves as an assistant professor of pediatrics-cardiology at Baylor, earned Bachelor of Arts degree at Rice University and medical degree at Baylor College of Medicine. He earned a Masters of Public Health from Harvard University and completed his pediatric residency at the University of California San Francisco. He also completed a clinical cardiology fellowship at Boston Children’s Hospital and a visiting research fellowship with the Framingham Heart Study, supported by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Zachariah’s clinical interests include preventive cardiology in order to help patients avoid future cardiac disease and events such as heart attack and stroke through early detection and intervention.