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.

CHOC recognized as critical care leader

CHOC has again been recognized by an international consortium for its excellence in extracorporeal life support (ECLS), a special procedure that takes over the heart’s pumping function and the lungs’ oxygen exchange until a patient can recover from injury or illness.

The platinum-level Extracorporeal Life Support Organization (ELSO) Award of Excellence in Life Support recognizes programs worldwide that distinguish themselves by having evidence-based processes, procedures and systems in place that promote excellence in ECLS. As a recipient of a platinum designation, CHOC is among the highest scoring institutions.

As an award recipient, CHOC has also earned another three-year designationas an ELSO Center of Excellence. CHOC is the only Orange County hospital offering ECLS, also known as extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO).

“This award validates CHOC’s efforts and commitment to providing exceptional, state-of-the-art critical care to patients and families, and can provide families with added assurance that CHOC is the right place to receive this special type of care,” said Dr. Joanne Starr, CHOC’s ECLS director and medical director of cardiothoracic surgery.

The ELSO Award of Excellence demonstrates an assurance of high-quality standards, collaboration, specialized equipment and supplies, defined patient protocols, and advanced education of all staff members. Additionally, the award is recognized by U.S. News & World Report and Parents magazine as one criterion for top institutions.

ELSO is an international consortium of health care professionals and scientists dedicated to the development and evaluation of novel therapies for support of failing organ systems.

An award ceremony will take place at the annual ELSO conference in Baltimore in September.

Learn more about CHOC’s extracorporeal life support program.

CHOC Recognized as a Leader in Critical Care

CHOC is pleased to announce that it has been recognized with the ELSO Award for Excellence in Life Support. The award, given by the Extracorporeal Life Support Organization (ELSO), recognizes programs worldwide that distinguish themselves by having evidence-based processes, procedures and systems in place that promote excellence in extracorporeal life support (ECLS).

CHOC is one of 45 centers internationally to receive the award and three-year designation as an ELSO Center of Excellence for 2014-2017. CHOC is the only Orange County hospital offering ECLS, and was recognized by the ELSO award committee for submitting one of the highest-scoring applications this year.

“This award signifies to patients and families a commitment to exceptional, state-of-the-art patient care and lets them know that they are in the right place,” says Joanne Starr, director of ECLS and surgical director of the cardiovascular intensive care unit (CVICU) at CHOC.

The ELSO Award of Excellence demonstrates an assurance of high-quality standards, collaboration, specialized equipment and supplies, defined patient protocols, and advanced education of all staff members. Additionally, the award is recognized by U.S. News & World Report and Parents magazine as one criterion for top institutions.

ELSO is an international consortium of health care professionals and scientists dedicated to the development and evaluation of novel therapies for support of failing organ systems.