UF Health Congenital Heart Center celebrates 10 years of healing hearts

Jennifer Co-Vu, M.D., pediatric cardiologist at the Turner Syndrome Center, and the director of the Fetal Cardiac Program and Single Ventricle Home Monitoring Program at the UF Health Congenital Heart Center, analyzes a fetal heartbeat for early detection of congenital heart disease.

UF Health Congenital Heart Center Fact Sheet

In December of 2014, Adam and Cassidy Pridgeon received exciting news that they would be welcoming their first child in the following year. However, excitement quickly turned to concern when the couple discovered that their daughter, Jessa, would be born with a congenital heart defect. Shortly after Jessa was diagnosed in utero with Turner Syndrome — a chromosome disorder that can cause a congenital heart defect — Adam and Cassidy were referred to the UF Health Congenital Heart Center.

After further examination at the UF Health Congenital Heart Center, Jennifer Co-Vu, M.D., noticed that Jessa would be born with a narrowed aorta, and a small aortic arch. Four weeks after Jessa’s birth, Mark Bleiweis, M.D., center director and chief of congenital cardiothoracic surgery, and his team of anesthesiologists, cardiologists, nurses and staff performed the operation to correct her anomaly.

"It’s the compassion and human touch that sets the center apart," Adam Pridgeon said. "It’s what doctors and nurses don’t learn from a book. Without them, we wouldn’t have a story to tell."

This January, the University of Florida Health Congenital Heart Center is celebrating 10 years of healing hearts just like Jessa’s for patients of all ages diagnosed with congenital heart defects.

Since opening at the UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital in 2006, the center has treated 2,397 first-time patients, and has been ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top 50 pediatric cardiology and heart surgery centers in the United States for five years in a row.

Led by Bleiweis, the center is staffed by a specialized team of four pediatric cardiovascular surgeons, 13 pediatric cardiologists, five pediatric critical care specialists, one pediatrician and a multidisciplinary group of dedicated faculty and staff.

In addition to being ranked by U.S. News & World Report, the Congenital Heart Center remains the only practice in the north central Florida region with pediatric and adult congenital heart specialists who offer a continuum of care for patients of all ages.

"With being known as a center that treats the most complex cases from across region, the UF Health Congenital Heart Center has put Gainesville on the map as home to one of the leading children’s hospitals for pediatric cardiology and heart surgery centers in the nation," Bleiweis said.

As a result of the center’s high patient volume and success rate for treating the most complex patients, UF Health has invested in the use of innovative technologies, including the Berlin Heart Ventricular Assist Device, HeartWare Ventricular Assist Device and SynCardia Total Artificial Heart, which have contributed to the success of heart transplants performed at UF Health. The UF Health Congenital Heart Center also utilizes the CARDIOHELP system which allows for safe transport of patients with severe cardio-respiratory failure.

Jessa Pridgeon, an infant who was born with a narrowed aorta, was operated on four weeks after birth at the UF Health Congenital Heart Center. Mark Bleiweis, M.D., center director and chief of congenital cardiothoracic surgery, and his team performed an operation to correct her anomaly.In 2006, the UF Health Congenital Heart Center was the first in Florida to use the Berlin Heart, an external device designed for children that connects to the patient’s own heart as a bridge to transplant. Seven years later, UF Health would become the first pediatric heart center in Florida to implant the SynCardia Total Artificial Heart into a 16-year-old patient. She was the youngest patient in the world to leave the hospital with the SynCardia heart and Freedom portable driver, a wearable power supply for the SynCardia heart. With these technologies, the Congenital Heart Center is able to offer a temporary fix to patients who are awaiting transplant.

In addition, the Congenital Heart Center has a comprehensive Interventional Cardiac Catheterization Lab for its congenital heart patients. Interventional catheterization can provide less invasive approaches to treatments. It is most often used to gather information about the heart or its blood vessels to treat certain types of heart conditions, or to find out if a patient needs surgery. The highly trained interventional pediatric cardiologists at the center perform about 400 diagnostic and interventional catheterizations each year.

Most recently, the Pediatric Cardiac Intensive Care Unit, or PCICU, opened in January 2014 to better serve the center’s most complex cases. From July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2015, 336 unique patients were seen in the PCICU. The 18,000-square-foot expansion included 23 private patient rooms, each with its own bathroom and shower. In addition, there is a dedicated area for physical therapy in the PCICU that is designed for children with congenital heart defects.

"The expansion of the UF Health Congenital Heart Center has enhanced the type of care that we provide to our patients and their families. With the creation of the PCICU, our team can better care for patients with complex problems that require a multidisciplinary team approach," Bleiweis said. "The quality of care we provide, the new technologies we have access to, and the compassion from all of our staff are what continue to move us forward as a leader in congenital heart surgeries."

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Alisha Katz's picture

Alisha Katz

Marketing Manager

Alisha Katz joined the UF Health Communications team in 2015 and serves as the marketing manager for UF Health Surgical Services, UF Health Shands Transplant Center, UF Health Advanced Lung...Read More