September 10, 2018

As the opening of the new Heart Center in Legacy Tower quickly approaches, one grateful patient family is commemorating their journey with Texas Children’s with a building project of their own.

Heartwood Acres is a new subdivision being developed by Rodgers Homes & Construction, a business owned and operated by Jenny and Philip Rodgers, who came to Texas Children’s in 2014 after a routine 20-week ultrasound revealed their baby had hypoplastic left heart syndrome. Their doctors in Shreveport, Louisiana, explained that repairing this rare, complex and life-threatening heart defect would require highly specialized care that wasn’t available locally, including at least three open-heart surgeries, the first just a few days after birth. But even with surgical intervention, survival wasn’t certain. The couple was devastated.

“When they told us something was wrong, everything changed,” Jenny recalled. “I cried for months. It was as though we were mourning the loss of the family life we’d envisioned.”

After researching fetal cardiology and surgical options at top regional and national hospitals, they decided their best chance was treatment at Texas Children’s. From the moment they walked in, they knew they’d made the right choice.

“We were immediately blown away by the facilities and how state-of-the-art everything was, but what really floored us were the people,” Jenny said. “Everyone was incredible and comforting. Dr. Nancy Ayres, our fetal cardiologist, met us in the hallway and stayed with us all day. We felt like we were being taken care of from day one.”

Prior to delivery, Jenny moved to Houston to be closer to Texas Children’s, where she would remain until after her baby’s second open-heart surgery. On May 19, 2014, after months of careful planning and monitoring at Texas Children’s Fetal Center®, Jenny gave birth to Aiden at Texas Children’s Pavilion for Women. Just four days later, Dr. Jeffrey Heinle, associate chief of Congenital Heart Surgery, performed the first of Aiden’s surgeries at Texas Children’s Heart Center®. The family stayed in Houston until Aiden was ready for his second surgery, performed when he was only four months old. Less than a month later, they were discharged to return home to Louisiana.

Today, Aiden is a happy four-year-old who loves superheroes and playing soccer. And though there’s another procedure on the horizon, part of Aiden’s three-stage palliative surgical path, Jenny knows her son and family will be in the best hands possible at the No. 1 heart center in the country according to the 2018-2019 U.S. News & World Report hospital rankings.

“Heart parents are fiercely proud of their heart centers,” Jenny said, laughing. “So we’re excited that ours is the actual No. 1 heart center, especially because the rankings are so comprehensive. That kind of transparency is vital for families that need to make important health decisions. The U.S. News rankings are an easy-to-understand resource that I give to any family I meet that’s in need of specialized care.”

Of added comfort to the Rodgers family is the fact that when Aiden undergoes his final surgery, it will be in the new Heart Center in Legacy Tower. The Heart Center will occupy eight floors and will feature four cardiac catheterization labs including integrated MRI scanner, four cardiovascular operating rooms, three cardiovascular ICU floors with 48 private rooms, two cardiac acute care floors with 42 private patient rooms, and a dedicated space for families.

“I’m thrilled that we’ll have access to this awesome new facility,” Jenny said. “It’s huge to know that because of the layout of the new CVICU rooms, I don’t have to leave to sleep or shower. I can be right where I’m supposed to be – with Aiden.”

The road has been long and their journey isn’t over, but the Rodgers family is grateful for Texas Children’s and the care they’ve received. In honor of their experience, and their continued involvement in the pediatric heart community, the family decided to name their company’s first ever subdivision Heartwood Acres. When residents and visitors pass into the neighborhood, they’ll pass a plaque that tells Aiden’s story and how this place and its streets got their names. The first three streets are appropriately named Fannin, after the street where Texas Children’s stands, Ayres Circle and Heinle Way.

On September 6, the Rodgers family presented Drs. Ayres and Heinle with their own street signs, each with a personal inscription to the people who Jenny said held Aiden’s life – and his heart – in their hands.

The inscription reads:
Your care lit the path for our son Aiden’s life and we are honored to pave the streets in your name for others to live theirs.

“We wouldn’t have Aiden without them,” Jenny said. “They mean so much to us and we love them.”

Learn more of the Rodgers family’s story.

On Tuesday, September 25, Texas Children’s No. 1 ranked Heart Center will open in Legacy Tower. To prepare for this historic milestone, multidisciplinary teams recently conducted simulations in the cardiovascular intensive care unit and cardiovascular operating room to test out the new patient care spaces before real patients are seen.

“Today, we are doing systems testing in our cardiovascular intensive care unit,” said Dr. Cara Doughty, medical director of Texas Children’s Simulation Center. “During these simulations, we have a number of different patients both receiving care as well as receiving escalations in care that can happen in the intensive care unit.”

In addition to multidisciplinary staff, patient families from Texas Children’s Family Advisory Committee participated in the CVICU simulations and provided their perspective on how much this space is going to change the way that care is provided to heart patients and their families at Legacy Tower.

“It’s really nice and comforting to me as a parent to see how much thought goes into it,” said Texas Children’s Family Advisory Committee member Christine Hanes. “I know that they aren’t just making a random decision on how to take care of my child. They’re actually testing it and making sure that they follow all the right procedures and that they do everything to optimize their care.”

Following the CVICU simulations, Texas Children’s conducted patient care simulations in the CVOR to test the system, the work flow processes, the placement of surgical equipment, as well as test the communication among multidisciplinary teams to ensure everyone and everything is ready before the first CVOR in Legacy Tower.

“For the CVOR, we had one patient but that patient was going through all of the different aspects of being a patient from registration to preoperative care to arrival to being in the operating room,” Doughty said.

Following each simulation, a one-hour debrief was held where staff from different disciplines came together to discuss what went well and what system processes need to be corrected before actual patients are seen.

“We want to make sure we’re well prepared, that the space is in tip top shape to be able to provide what we need for these critical patients,” said Kerry Sembera, assistant director of clinical practice for the Heart Center.

In preparation for the opening of Texas Children’s No. 1 ranked Heart Center on September 25, a series of systems testing was also conducted last month for acute care cardiology, the Heart Center Clinic and the Cath lab/HCRU.

Employees and staff can see more of Legacy Tower on Connect throughout the month. Texas Children’s Corporate Communications Team will feature a series of stories and videos on Connect promoting the Heart Center and sharing how we are preparing for this historic move into Legacy Tower.

September 4, 2018

On August 23, an excited group of Walmart and Sam’s Club employees visited Texas Children’s for a special presentation and ribbon cutting for the Walmart and Sam’s Club Waiting Room on the 20th floor of Legacy Tower and part of the new Texas Children’s Heart Center®. They were welcomed by Chief of Pediatric Cardiology Dr. Daniel Penny, Vice President Judy Swanson and Texas Children’s Executive Vice President Mark Mullarkey, who spoke about Texas Children’s special partnership with Walmart and Sam’s Club through the Children’s Miracle Network.

“We couldn’t be more appreciative of the support we’ve had from Walmart and Sam’s Club over the years,” Mullarkey said. “Your generosity has made it possible for us to provide families with critically ill children the space they need to be together and to be comfortable.”

Even with a crowd of more than 30 attendees, there was plenty of room to move in the expansive new waiting area, which was specially designed as a haven for families with children who are dealing with some of the most complex medical issues – children like 11-year-old Jhett Skaggs, a Texas Children’s patient from Oklahoma, who with his dad, Brian, attended the event. Brian shared their story.

Jhett was born with cardiomyopathy, a rare heart disease. Doctors told Brian and his wife, Audra, that Jhett needed a life-saving heart transplant. They began researching options for treatment and decided Texas Children’s was the best choice. Experts from Texas Children’s flew to Oklahoma to transport Jhett to Houston, where he received a heart transplant at just 10 months old. For years, everything seemed to be okay, until at age 5 Jhett developed coronary artery disease. He would require another transplant. In 2012, Brian and Jhett moved to Houston to be closer to Texas Children’s. And though they had to wait nearly six years, Jhett finally received his second heart this past July.

“Everything worked out perfectly,” Skaggs said. “I wouldn’t change one single thing about our decision to come to Texas Children’s.”

After Brian’s moving story, Mullarkey turned the floor over to Trina Greer, Walmart Regional Vice President of Human Resources, who presented Texas Children’s with a check for nearly $1 million.

“It’s always my pleasure to watch our employees get excited about raising money for children who need our help,” Greer said. “I’m proud of the work we do and the funds we raise in the Greater Houston area to help Texas Children’s.”

Since 2005, Walmart and Sam’s Club have contributed more than $9.2 million. Last year, in addition to the funds raised in Houston area stores, the Walmart Foundation also gave Texas Children’s a gift of $500,000 for Hurricane Harvey Relief. In appreciation of this generosity, Texas Children’s leadership decided to dedicate the Heart Center’s new waiting area in honor of Walmart and Sam’s Club.

The new Heart Center – set to open on September 25 – will occupy eight floors and will feature four cardiac catheterization labs including integrated MRI scanner, four cardiovascular operating rooms, three cardiovascular ICU floors with 48 private rooms, two cardiac acute care floors with 42 private patient rooms, and a dedicated space for families.

July 10, 2018

Texas Children’s Transplant Services has hit another milestone – the completion of 200 lung transplants and 400 heart transplants, making the program one of the highest volume pediatric heart and lung transplant centers in the nation.

The milestone continues to solidify Texas Children’s position as one of the most active pediatric transplant programs in the country, per the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network.

“This type of volume has only been accomplished in a handful of pediatric programs across the United States,” Surgeon-in-Chief Dr. Larry Hollier said. “We are proud to add Texas Children’s Hospital to this distinguished list.”

Transplantation began at Texas Children’s in 1984 with a pediatric heart transplant. Since that time, liver, kidney and lung have been added and countless lives have been saved. Just last year, Texas Children’s Transplant teams performed 112 solid organ transplants, the most in the history of Texas Children’s Transplant Services.

“I’m proud to be working with a team so dedicated to providing the best possible outcomes for our patients,” said Dr. John Goss, medical director of Transplant Services. “This milestone demonstrates that Texas Children’s continues to earn its reputation as one of the best pediatric transplant programs in the country, and is a testament to the skill and commitment of our multidisciplinary team.”

Texas Children’s Transplant Services draws on numerous medical, surgical and support specialties, including transplant coordinators who play an essential role in connecting recipients with prospective donors, who ultimately made the transplant process possible.

“Without our donor families, our patients would not be given the gift that provides them a second chance at life,” said Dr. Jeff Heinle, surgical director of the Heart and Lung Transplant Program. “We can never forget to acknowledge the selfless decisions they make during the most difficult times of their lives.”

The recipients of Texas Children’s 200th lung transplant and 400th heart transplant are both doing well. Read more about their stories below as well as information about Texas Children’s Transplant Program and how to become an organ donor.

Brandon Cliff
Twelve-year-old Brandon Cliff has Cystic Fibrosis, a progressive genetic disease that causes lung infections, makes breathing difficult, and affects the pancreas, liver and other organs. The disease eventually leads to lung failure. Due to such complications, Brandon had been under consideration for a transplant for more than a year before receiving a double lung transplant on June 21. Performed by Dr. Iki Adachi, the transplant went well. Brandon was discharged from the hospital on July 3 and is ready to play with his brothers, cousins and friends as well as golf and basketball. Watch Fox 26’s news story about Brandon here.

Anacecilia Ortiz
Anacecilia Ortiz turned 14 at the beginning of July, just days after receiving her second heart transplant. The teenager got her first transplant at a children’s hospital in Colorado when she was 7 months old. Doctors there told her a transplant was necessary after finding a tumor inside her heart that was growing and could not be operated on. Over the years, Anacecilia’s body began to reject her new heart, causing it to develop scar tissue and not beat as hard as it should. A few serious dizzy spells earlier this year led Anacecilia’s physician in Brownsville to send her to Texas Children’s, where she was placed on the transplant list after trying medication. A month and a half later in mid-June, Anaceclila received her second heart transplant. Since then, she’s been doing extremely well and is currently recovering at her Pearland home.

Texas Children’s Hospital was back on Capitol Hill in June in support of the Children’s Hospital Association Speak Now For Kids Family Advocacy Day, which brings patient families from around the United States to Washington, D.C. to share their experiences with lawmakers and staff, as well as to advocate for policies that will ensure the highest levels of medical care for children and their families.

We had a strong team from Texas Children’s participate this year. Anthony DeLuca, Chairman of the Board of Director’s Policy Committee, joined the Texas Children’s Government Relations and Public Relations teams in accompanying Tenley Kennedy, a heart transplant patient, and her family on visits to Capitol Hill.

Tenley is a perfect example of the type of child who needs fierce advocates and the specialized care very few hospitals can provide. Tenley was diagnosed with a severe heart condition prenatally, so her mother, Kelly, had to travel from her home state of Louisiana to Texas Children’s in order to access the care her baby would need. Tenley was a patient of Texas Children’s before she was ever born and touched nearly every aspect of our hospital’s top ranked Heart Center. Kelly shared that without Texas Children’s her daughter would not be alive today and that without Medicaid coverage they don’t know what they would do.

“Thank you Texas Children’s for choosing us to be your family advocates for Family Advocacy Day,” Kelly said. “We are truly blessed and feel so honored to represent such a wonderful hospital.”

Kelly, Tenley and the Texas Children’s team were able to meet with Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA), who sits on the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee; and Congressman Gene Green, who serves as the Ranking Member on the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Health Subcommittee, as well as staff from other House and Senate offices.

“In many ways, this visit was a culmination of our efforts this spring to expand Texas Children’s visibility on Capitol Hill,” said Rosie Valadez McStay, assistant vice president of Texas Children’s Government Relations. “In the past two months, members of Congress and their staffs have heard testimony from physician leadership, received insight into important programs from hospital administrators, seen the commitment and hands-on involvement of the Board of Directors, and now been exposed to some of the realities facing patient families. As a testament to this ‘all in’ engagement, Rep. Pete Olson (R-TX) cosponsored the ACE Kids Act within 24 hours of our most recent meeting.”

The ACE Kids Act is a congressional proposal to improve how care is delivered to America’s children who have complex medical conditions and are on Medicaid. Once enacted into law, the act will improve coordination of care, address problems with fragmented care across state lines, gather national data on complex conditions to help researchers improve treatments for rare diseases, and potentially save billions of dollars over the duration of 10 years.

“We will continue to look for opportunities to broaden our relationships and put Texas Children’s leadership and experience at the forefront of future policy discussions, McStay said. “We believe our involvement can make a difference.”

July 3, 2018

Two congenital heart surgeons will be joining the Texas Children’s Heart Center® team this fall. Dr. Christopher Caldarone will serve as the chief of congenital heart surgery and Dr. E. Dean McKenzie will serve as a congenital heart surgeon.

“Drs. Caldarone and McKenzie bring a remarkable commitment to innovation, collaborative patient-centered care and dedication to achieving the best possible outcomes,” said Dr. Larry Hollier, surgeon-in-chief. “I know our patients and their families will benefit tremendously from their vast knowledge and background in this field.”

Caldarone is an internationally-recognized leader in congenital heart surgery and most recently served as surgeon-in-chief at The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. He will join Texas Children’s in September as the chief of congenital heart surgery and professor of congenital heart surgery at Baylor College of Medicine.

“I have always admired Texas Children’s Hospital and it is a great honor to serve as the congenital heart surgery chief,” said Caldarone. “My role is to find ways to make a great program even greater and we are off to a terrific start with Dr. McKenzie joining the team. Together, I know we will be able to contribute to the team and drive innovation in ways to better serve our patients.”

Caldarone received his undergraduate degree from Johns Hopkins University and his medical degree from Columbia University. He completed his general surgery and cardiothoracic surgery residencies at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center/Harvard Medical School. He also completed a fellowship in congenital heart surgery at The Hospital for Sick Children. Caldarone is a member of the American Association for Thoracic Surgery, the Society of Thoracic Surgeons and the Congenital Heart Surgeons’ Society.

McKenzie, who will officially join Texas Children’s in October, is a world-renowned leader in congenital heart surgery. He was previously a member of Texas Children’s Heart Center team for more than 15 years. Most recently, he served as chief of pediatric congenital cardiothoracic surgery at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, and professor and chair of the division of cardiothoracic surgery at Emory University School of Medicine.

“I’m looking forward to returning to the institution where my career as a congenital heart surgeon truly began,” said McKenzie, who will also serve as professor of congenital heart surgery at Baylor. “As I rejoin the incredible team I know so well, I am excited to be a part of all we will accomplish under Dr. Caldarone’s leadership.”

McKenzie received his undergraduate degree from The University of Texas at Austin and his medical degree from Baylor. He completed his residency in general surgery at the University of Louisville and his residency in cardiovascular and thoracic surgery at The University of Florida College of Medicine. McKenzie is a member of the American Association for Thoracic Surgery, the Society of Thoracic Surgeons, the Congenital Heart Surgeons’ Society and the International Society for Heart and Lung Transplantation.

Texas Children’s Heart Center is ranked No. 1 in the nation for cardiology and heart surgery by U.S. News & World Report. The integrated, multidisciplinary team at the Heart Center has combined cutting-edge technology with a compassionate and family-centered approach to care for more than half a century. Annually, nearly 1,000 surgeries are performed and more than 28,000 patient encounters occur in the outpatient clinic.

“At Texas Children’s Heart Center, we are committed to achieving the best possible outcomes,” said Dr. Daniel Penny, chief of pediatric cardiology at Texas Children’s. “Drs. Caldarone and McKenzie will help us continue to grow and develop our exceptional heart program in order to provide the most advanced clinical care and surgical treatments to our patients.”

The Heart Center is led by Penny and Caldarone, as well as Dr. Lara Shekerdemian, chief of critical care at Texas Children’s, and Dr. Emad Mossad, chief of cardiovascular anesthesia at Texas Children’s.

“We are so excited for Drs. Caldarone and McKenzie to join our outstanding congenital heart surgery team as we strive to provide the best possible care to infants, children and young adults with heart disease,” said Shekerdemian.

To learn more about Texas Children’s Heart Center, click here.

On June 30, more than 100 people gathered at Texas Children’s Hospital for the inaugural Celebration for VAD Superheroes. The event, which brought together patients of Texas Children’s VAD Program, allowed the patients and their families to connect with others who share similar experiences. They enjoyed games, visiting with Texas Children’s therapy dog, Bailey, reuniting with their care team, posing for pictures in a photo booth, and more.

“They say it takes a village to care for a child and we are honored to help care for yours,” said Dr. Jeff Dreyer, medical director of heart failure, cardiomyopathy and cardiac transplantation, at the event. “Pediatric VAD therapy is a team sport and I am proud to be a part of this team.”

Some patients awaiting a heart transplant may require mechanical circulatory support with a Ventricular Assist Device (VAD). Texas Children’s offers a variety of circulatory support devices as a bridge to transplantation. Since the inception of Texas Children’s VAD Program in 1985, we have become one of the largest, most comprehensive pediatric VAD programs in the world. Texas Children’s Hospital offers a comprehensive range of both short and long-term mechanical devices for children of all sizes. To learn more visit

Texas Children’s patient, Christiana, shared her experience with event attendees, offered encouragement and explained to other patients that it’s possible to live with a VAD in a safe manner.

“You can still dance and travel. I’ve graduated high school and will be going to college in the fall,” Christiana said. “We have all gone through a tough journey, but we’ve made it. I’m so thankful for the entire VAD team at Texas Children’s and decided at age 12 that I was going to be a heart surgeon. I can’t wait to achieve that dream!”

Dr. Iki Adachi, a congenital heart surgeon at Texas Children’s, said he always feels he can support complex patients like Christiana because he’s supported by an incredible team.

“We have learned so much from each of you and looking forward to other celebrations in the future,” he said.