Years in the works, NICU hires its first senior fellow in neonatal cardiac intensive care

After years of planning, CHOC’s neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), in a partnership with UC Irvine Health, has hired its first senior fellow in neonatal cardiovascular ICU and hemodynamics – how the heart and blood vessels work together.

The fourth-year fellowship position is one of only two such ones in the western U.S. and the first-ever senior level fellowship at CHOC in any specialty, said Dr. Amir Ashrafi, a cardiac-neonatologist at CHOC and fellowship program director.

“It’s a really big deal,” he said. “We’re really establishing our excellence in this field.”

Neonatal cardiac intensive care is a newly emerging subspecialty within neonatology whose primary goal is to enhance the cardiovascular care of newborns with structural heart disease and/or hemodynamic instability.

“Medical information is increasing at such a fast rate, we are at the point where doctors need to sub-sub specialize,” Dr. Ashrafi said. “Here in CHOC’s NICU, we don’t only have neonatal intensive care doctors, but also we have neonatal cardiac intensive care doctors.”

A senior fellowship is one granted to a sub-sub specialist, and such positions are typically reserved for the most elite programs in the country, Dr. Ashrafi said.

“With this fellowship, we’ll start training the future generation of highly sub-specialized doctors who will practice state-of-the-art care for the sickest babies in the hospital,” Dr. Ashrafi said.

Following a selection process in which young neonatal intensive care physicians from around the world applied, the fourth-year fellowship position in Neonatal Cardiovascular ICU & Hemodynamic has been awarded to Southern California native Dr. Ziad Alhassen, 33, who currently is in the Neonatal-Perinatal medicine fellowship program at UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento.

Dr. Ziad Alhassen

“I’m definitely excited and feel blessed to have the opportunity to work with world-class physicians at CHOC and to learn as much as I can from them,” said Ziad, whose fellowship begins July 1, 2021.

Dr. Anjan Batra, vice chair of the UC Irvine School of Medicine’s Department of Pediatrics, joins Dr. Ashrafi as associate director of the fellowship. The other two associate program directors are Dr. John Cleary, associate director of the neonatal-cardiac ICU at CHOC, and Dr. Wyman Lai, assistant division chief of cardiology, co-director of the cardiac institute, and director of the echocardiography lab at CHOC.

Ziad, who is married with two young children, grew up in West Covina. He received his medical education at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, Bahrain (RCSI-Bahrain) and has been licensed with the American Board of Pediatrics since October 2018.

Ziad said he’s excited to serve CHOC’s patient population and is especially eager to improve his understanding of CHOC’s extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) program, a heart and lung bypass machine reserved for babies with complete failure of their cardio-respiratory system. Part of Ziad’s responsibilities as a senior fellow will be managing all ECMO cases in the NICU.

“Neonatal-cardiac intensive care is something I’ve always wanted to do,” Ziad said. “During my residency, I found myself gravitating toward patients who were critically unstable and required intensive care. It is eternally rewarding to see them get better.”

Ziad’s father is a physician who specializes in general surgery. Ziad has five siblings and he is the second among them to become a practicing physician.

To learn more about CHOC’s NICU, click here.

William, Jeff and Jennifer Gross Family Foundation donates $2 million to CHOC’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit

Newborn babies requiring critical care have gained a big ally in the William, Jeff and Jennifer Gross Foundation.  Formed by asset manager Bill Gross, his son and daughter, the foundation today donated $2 million to CHOC’s neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) on its main campus in Orange.  The recent gift rounds the Foundation’s support of CHOC’s neonatal services to $7 million in the past 12 months.

Many hospitals offer intensive care units but only a select few are rated by the American Academy of Pediatrics as Level 4 – the highest rating available – and even fewer are ranked among the best in the nation, according to U.S. News & World Report. CHOC’s program features three NICUs, a team of board-certified neonatologists and special units for the smallest preemies, infants who need complex surgery, and babies who have neurological and cardiac concerns.

“CHOC’s neonatal services are unlike anything else offered on the West Coast, providing the highest levels of care and tremendous hope to families in the region. We are honored to continue our commitment to CHOC and the care of newborn babies,” says Jeff Gross.

Two years ago, CHOC expanded neonatal services on its main campus with the opening of a new NICU.  Located in the Bill Holmes Tower, the 25,000-square-foot unit features 36 private rooms in a homey atmosphere with family sleeping quarters and storage spaces outfitted in warm colors and wooden accents to help parents feel more comfortable.  Private NICU rooms are a new standard for improved patient outcomes.  Benefits for babies include higher weight at discharge and more rapid weight gain.  Also, they require fewer medical procedures and experience less stress, lethargy and pain.  Researchers attribute these findings to increased maternal involvement.

CHOC’s NICUs include the 91-bed unit on its main campus, a 13-bed unit at St. Joseph Hospital and a 22-bed NICU at CHOC at Mission Hospital.

California Medical Association Recognizes Dr. Sudeep Kukreja

Sudeep Kukreja M.D. A CHOC neonatologist has been recognized by the California Medical Association (CMA) for his extensive volunteer work.

Dr. Sudeep Kukreja has received the 2015 Presidents’ Forum Award, which recognizes CMA members or physician organizations that show altruism or volunteerism. Award recipients’ work benefits the CMA, the component medical society, or the general profession of medicine by promoting patients’ health, health care delivery and physician branding.

In addition to his role at CHOC, Dr. Kukreja founded Arpan Global Charities, a nonprofit volunteer medical organization that provides free health care, supplies and support to people in developing countries. In the past 10 years, he has organized 17 volunteer medical missions to nine countries, providing free medical care to more than 9,500 people in the most underserved areas. More than 700 major surgeries, 900 non-invasive procedures and 450 dental procedures have been performed. His next medical mission is slated for November.

At CHOC, Dr. Kukreja serves as medical director of the newborn hearing screening program, as well as associate medical director of the neonatal intensive care unit.

Locally, he also participates in charitable clinics and health fairs, and is the past president of the Orange County Medical Association.

Dr. Kukreja will be formally recognized in October at the Presidents’ Forum meeting, where he will also give a presentation about his volunteer work.

Sudeep Kukreja, M.D. Appointed President of Orange County Medical Association

Sudeep Kukreja, M.D., associate medical director of the NICU at CHOC Children's
Sudeep Kukreja, M.D., associate medical director of the NICU at CHOC

CHOC is pleased to announce that Dr. Sudeep Kukreja, associate medical director of the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at CHOC was appointed as president of the Orange County Medical Association (OCMA), at an inauguration dinner held July 19 at the Center Club in Costa Mesa. The event was attended by OCMA members, physicians and community leaders.

Dr. Kukreja said this honor is very exciting. Among the key objectives of OCMA – a component of the California Medical Association – is legislative advocacy. As president, one of his goals is to defeat the ballot initiative pushed by the trial lawyers that would overturn the landmark Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA) cap. He also plans to recruit more young doctors to OCMA, explaining that they are our future.

Dedicated to clinical excellence, Dr. Kukreja  is board certified in neonatal-perinatal medicine and has special interests in the management of high-risk infants, apnea and newborn hearing.

Dr. Kukreja, who has been at CHOC for 25 years, served his fellowship and residency at UC Irvine Medical Center and at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia, respectively. He completed his internship and medical training at King George’s Medical College in Lucknow, India. He has published many works and presented numerous lectures. Most recently, he presented at the European Congress Perinatal Medicine (ECPM) international conference in Florence, Italy on breastmilk safety.

Dr. Kukreja is also known for his passion for volunteering. Through his nonprofit organization, Arpan Global Charities, which he started in 2005, he has organized numerous medical missions to developing countries where he and a team of colleagues have treated more than 9,000 patients, performed more than 600 major surgeries, 800 non-invasive procedures and 400 dental procedures. He is planning for his next trip to Tanzania on Aug. 8, making it his 16th medical mission!

CHOC Neonatology Earns “Top 20” Spot in U.S. News & World Report

CHOC neonatology has been named one of the nation’s “top 20” by the 2014-2015 U.S. News & World Report. The neonatology ranking showcases the team’s unwavering commitment to the highest standards of patient care and safety.

Dr. Vijay Dhar, CHOC medical director of the NICU attributes the division’s high performance to the specialized service lines at CHOC, including the Small Baby Unit, Surgical NICU, mandibular distraction osteogenesis program, neo-cardiac critical care and NICU Neuroscience program, some of which are the first in the nation. CHOC is also the only Orange County hospital offering extracorporeal life support.

“This award reaffirms the excellent, family-centered care at CHOC,” said Dr. Dhar. “It’s a testament to our standard of quality and to our talented multidisciplinary team.”

CHOC’s NICU is a designated Level 4 NICU – the highest distinction by the American Academy of Pediatrics – with 54 beds, offering tertiary and quaternary care for newborns of any medical and surgical needs. An additional 13 beds are located in the fairly new level II CHOC NICU at St. Joseph Hospital. The neonatology division is also involved in various research efforts, and is part of the California Perinatal Quality Care Collaborative (CPQCC) and Vermont Oxford Network (VON).

Representatives from NICUs nationwide recently toured CHOC’s Small Baby Unit and learned how to replicate the facility in their own hospitals as part of a conference held by VON. About 50 attendees spent two days at CHOC, touring and attending workshops and roundtable discussions.

In addition to the NICU’s high performance in the survey, CHOC also ranked as the nation’s best in these specialties: cancer, pulmonology, neurology and neurosurgery, orthopedics, gastroenterology and GI surgery, and urology.

“As the U.S. News & World Report annual Best Children’s Hospitals survey increases its focus on quality, safety and outcomes, it is not surprising that neonatology in particular and the many other specialties at CHOC have become recognized for their excellence,” said Dr. Jim Cappon, CHOC chief quality officer. “The focus of attention, energy and family engagement that the neonatology team brings to the bedside care of each and every neonate is really quite remarkable,” he added.

The Best Children’s Hospitals rankings highlight the nation’s top 50 pediatric facilities in 10 specialties, based on a combination of clinical data and reputation. U.S. News gathers the clinical data through a questionnaire sent to 183 pediatric hospitals. Five-sixths of each hospital’s score relied on patient outcomes and care-related resources made available at each facility. The remaining one-sixth of the score was derived from a survey of 450 pediatric specialists and subspecialists.