James Tweddell, M.D.
Executive Co-Director, Heart Institute
Director, Cardiothoracic Surgery, Heart Institute Cincinnati Children’s
Professor, UC Department of Surgery
Q: How has the pandemic impacted the work you do at the Heart Institute?
There are very few heart operations that are elective, so even during the elective surgical shutdown, we didn’t see much of a decrease in our surgical volume. Before the pandemic and certainly in the current era, we’ve been doing a lot of telemedicine consultations. We try to reproduce the face-to-face experience that they might have in the office, particularly for prenatal consults. I’m proud of how everyone who works at the Heart Institute has really risen to the challenge presented by the pandemic.
Q: Share with me your most exciting news as it relates to innovation and research.
We’re a world leader in mechanical circulatory support, or ventricular assist devices, for children. These are pumps placed to support the work of the heart when it can’t do it on its own. We have set up an innovative quality improvement network to share best strategies and management of patients requiring this kind of support. We also collaborate with cardiologists and surgeons around the country to improve the outcome of patients with hypoplastic left heart syndrome. We have funding to study the improvement of matching organs for transplants, and other research includes looking at the genetic causes of congenital heart disease and some of the challenges of heart disease on the molecular level.
Q: What is one of the most rewarding experiences you’ve had in your career?
Every successful patient is incredibly rewarding — that’s what attracted me to the field, and it’s driven me throughout my career. It’s great to see kids growing up after they’ve had successful treat- ment for their congenital heart problems. I’m also very honored and humbled to be selected by my peers to lead our national organization, the Congenital Heart Surgeons’ Society, as president.
Q: What’s the best piece of advice you would give to someone interested in this field?
Before every surgery, we write up an operative plan, or flight plan. I’ll usually put an inspirational quote at the end, and one of the ones I love is from Thomas Edison. It goes something along the lines of how you should never give up because sometimes you give up just before you figure out the answer to the problem. That’s certainly relevant for congenital heart disease. You have to keep at it, keep trying to innovate and keep looking for the next big thing, because you just might find it.