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Posted February 19, 2014
All Children’s Congenital Heart Disease Conference Reaches New Heights

Dr. Jacobs at the CHD Conference
Dr. Jeffrey Jacobs (left) leads a panel discussion.

The reviews couldn't have been more enthusiastic for the 14th Annual International Symposium on Congenital Heart Disease, hosted by All Children's Hospital Feb. 14-18 at the Renaissance Vinoy Resort.

Some 350 medical professionals from more than 45 countries and 25 states discussed care and advancements in pediatric cardiology, cardiac care, cardiac surgery, nursing, hospital administration and ethics. The event also showcased the Johns Hopkins All Children's Heart Institute, a leading pediatric cardiology and cardiac surgery program in the United States. And ACH pediatric surgeon Jeffrey Jacobs, M.D., was thrilled with the conference's multi-tiered success and new innovations with the format.

"I'm very happy," he said. "We have record attendance - 350 people. We're running three parallel tracks: a main track, a nursing track and a hospital administrator's track. That's a new thing for us and a very good one. I was concerned that having three tracks might dilute things but we have a full room here in the primary pathway and downstairs there was standing-room-only in the nurses pathway, and the same in the administrators' pathway. I couldn't be happier."

Dr. Jacobs underscored these unique aspects of the conference, deftly coordinated by the All Children's Continuing Medical Education department, in assessing its impact and value.

"I go to a lot of heart surgery meetings and you're in a room full of a thousand heart surgeons - 200 of us are pediatric surgeons and 800 are adult heart surgeons," he explained. "The cardiologists go to meetings where there are 2,000 cardiologists: 500 pediatric and 1,500 adults. And nurses go to nursing meetings along similar lines. But then the pediatric surgeons go back home to their hospitals, where they don't work with the adult heart surgeons. And same holds true for the pediatric cardiologists and nurses. We work with each other.

"The idea here is to have a meeting with the people you actually work with every day, so we can talk about what we do and try to do it better."

James Quintessenza, M.D., surgical director of the Johns Hopkins All Children's Heart Institute, concurs: "By bringing experts together, we help everybody's learning curves. We're not in the mode of not letting the competition know what you're doing, like many other industries. We're really more about 'How do we raise the bar for everybody?' And that's the sense of collaboration that you experience at meetings like this."
 
The sharing of ideas and the chance to network with fellow pediatric heart physicians and nurses is an enormous benefit, especially to those who attend from developing nations. Dr. Sulafa KM Ali of Sudan viewed the conference as a rare opportunity to learn new methods of treatment that can help her when she returns home.

"Getting to know a lot of people can have an impact on my practice and my programs for helping children," she said. "Sharing experiences and knowledge in science, as well as administrative issues, is very helpful. In addition, I presented our experiences in Sudan to our colleagues here in the States. You can see they were amazed by the differences and the similarities as well. If you're an administrator, you'll face the same problems here as you will there.

"I can't express my gratitude enough to Jeff and his group - and All Children's Hospital. They are very friendly people and I love the American attitude - the sharing of ideas and excellent scientific material. This is the value of the meeting. It's not only for the science but for getting to know each other and discussing issues."

Sherard Little, M.D. of Jamaica echoed the sentiment: "It's very good. The education level is quite high and the discussion is very good. We can't take everything from here to Jamaica but certainly some things can be generally applied to improve our practices."

Dr. Little feels a special connection with Dr. Jacobs, who has conducted mission trips to provide care in Jamaica for 10 years. "I've worked with him the past five years or so on the mission trips he and his team have made," said Dr. Little, who works at Bustamente Hospital for Children. "Jeff is a good friend and I've also visited All Children's as well. It's a good relationship between the two hospitals. I'm looking forward to even closer collaboration."

Jeffrey Boris, M.D., meanwhile, brought a different view to the large group from his outpatient cardiology work as part of Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

"My view is a little unique," said Dr. Boris, speaking at the conference for the fifth year. "I gave a talk (Saturday) on primary care management for patients with valve heart disease. So for me, it's nice to give a different perspective but also to have the feedback I get here - people ask 'What about this or what are your thoughts about that?'  "

Dr. Boris appreciated other aspects of the four-day gathering as well. "Of course, the chance to network and see friends is valuable - It's important and it's fun," he said. "The venue has been fabulous the entire time and the weather has been great. And I'm enjoying the breakout tracks that have been instituted, especially the administrator's section."

Attendees were treated to a stirring keynote speech Monday night by John W. Brown, M.D. from Indiana University School of Medicine.  Dr. Brown's presentation, "Pediatric Cardiac Surgery - It's a Wonderful Life" highlighted his personal life-commitment to pediatric heart patients, concluding that although it has not been an easy path, the rewards of helping children have far outweighed his many personal sacrifices.

"I think most of us go to conferences and we talk to people who do the same thing we do," he said prior to his talk. "This is nice because it combines the basic science people, the anatomists, the cardiologists and the surgeons. Everybody has something to say about the same subject. It's a very diverse crowd and the quality of the presentations is as good as they are at any big national meeting. It's a more relaxed atmosphere and obviously a beautiful place. People are more inclined to really have conversations about the topics that have been discussed."

Added ACH cardiology specialist Gul Dadlani, M.D.: "One nice thing is the international flavor of the conference. There are people from 40 different countries, which is really impressive. But the biggest thing you see is collaboration across multiple specialties at our meeting. It's not just cardiologists. It's cardiac surgeons, anesthesiologists, intensivists, nurses, nurse practitioners, physicians assistants, medical students, residents all coming together for one common theme - congenital heart disease."