In the Spotlight: Irfan Ahmad, M.D.

In addition to treating newborn babies requiring critical care, neonatologist Dr. Irfan Ahmad strives to involve family members in the care of their infant, which he says is essential for providing the best possible care for babies in the CHOC Children’s neonatal intensive care unit.

“I always include parents as part of the care team when treating a baby in the NICU, especially the mother. A mother and her baby were a single unit up until right before the delivery,” Dr. Ahmad says. “Parents are an essential part of the healing team, and building a strong physician-parent relationship is an important aspect of patient- and family-centered care.”

Surgical NICU

An internationally trained neonatologist, Dr. Ahmad also serves as medical director of the surgical neonatal intensive care program at CHOC.

Irfan Ahmad, M.D.
Irfan Ahmad, M.D.

The program will take up residence in CHOC’s recently-opened NICU, which features 36 private rooms with the latest technology and innovations in neonatal care. The 25,000-square-foot unit is nearly triple the size of CHOC’s prior NICU space, and will allow parents to stay overnight with their babies.

“We strongly believe in mother-baby bonding and the value of breast feeding, and our new private NICU rooms are designed to optimize that,” he says.

The recently-opened NICU also features three rooms with surgical lights, allowing minor procedures to be performed at the bedside.

The only Surgical NICU on the West Coast, CHOC’s program is comprised of a multidisciplinary team including neonatologists, pediatric surgeons and anesthesiologists.

“What inspires me the most about care being delivered at CHOC is the combination of passion for helping babies, multidisciplinary interactions, use of modern technology and an atmosphere of teaching,” Dr. Ahmad says. “From dedicated neonatologists present 24 hours a day in the NICU, nurses constantly advocating for best care, nutritionists and pharmacists rounding with the team, physical therapists, wound care teams, lactation specialists and social workers all working together to help a fragile small baby has no parallel.”

Dr. Ahmad’s Surgical NICU team also offers extracorporeal life support (ECLS), also referred to as extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) for patients. CHOC is the only facility in Orange County that offers ECLS, which supports the heart and lungs by taking over the heart’s pumping function and the lung’s oxygen exchange until they can recover from injury, surgery or illness.

In addition to neonatologists, the dedicated ECLS team is composed of cardiothoracic and pediatric surgeons, intensive care physicians, nurses, respiratory therapists and cardiopulmonary perfusionists who are experts in their fields and have received additional education to manage the complex equipment and medical needs of the children needing this life-saving technology.

In addition to stewarding the Surgical NICU, Dr. Ahmad’s special clinical interests include caring for babies who require surgery, including those born with structural abnormalities such as diaphragmatic hernia, intestinal obstruction and imperforate anus. His clinical interests also include babies who develop the intestinal infection necrotizing enterocolitis or who have intestinal perforation. His most common diagnoses include intestinal obstruction and trachea-esophageal fistula.

Mandibular Distraction Program

Dr. Ahmad is especially passionate about caring for babies with difficulty breathing due to an undersized or recessed lower jaw, which can be caused by a condition called Pierre Robin Sequence.

In 2008, Dr. Ahmad helped launch a mandibular distraction program at CHOC. Dozens of infants have benefited from mandibular distraction osteogenesis, which involves a plastic surgeon placing a special device in the small lower jaw to expand it, prompting new bone growth over a period of two to three weeks.

Traditionally, babies with this condition have been treated by placing a tracheostomy that remains in place for several years until the child outgrows the condition. Mandibular distraction is a more permanent solution that takes a few months to complete, allowing a baby to go on to have a normal, healthy development.

Constant quality improvement

Passionate about quality improvement, Dr. Ahmad serves as director of quality improvement for NICUs affiliated with CHOC Children’s Specialists. He has participated in several quality improvement initiatives with Vermont Oxford Network and California Perinatal Quality Improvement Collaborative. This includes a project to improve the transition of care for surgical cases from one team to another, decreasing delivery room intubations and preventing premature newborn babies from developing hypothermia.

As the director of quality improvement for CHOC’s network of nine NICUs, he partners with quality improvement teams at each unit in carrying out improvement projects based on local needs. The team currently has nine simultaneous quality improvement projects in the hospitals where CHOC neonatologists round.

Passionate about educating the next generation of pediatricians and neonatologists, Dr. Ahmad also serves as NICU education director for UC Irvine’s pediatric residency program and is an associate clinical professor of pediatrics at UC Irvine. He also trains neonatology fellows through CHOC’s partnership with Harbor-UCLA Medical Center’s neonatal-perinatal medicine fellowship program.

His current research efforts include studying the breathing patterns of full-term babies in order to refine inclusion criteria for the mandibular distraction procedure. He is also currently studying the clinical outcomes of CHOC’s surgical NICU program.

Pursuing his calling to care for children

Dr. Ahmad attended medical school at Aga Khan University in Pakistan. He completed a residency in pediatrics at the University of Oklahoma and a fellowship in neonatal-perinatal medicine at UC Irvine. He has been on staff at CHOC for 10 years. He knew from an early age that he wanted to care for children, so pursuing a pediatrics residency after medical school was a natural choice.

“I was exposed to various specialized fields like cardiology and oncology, but I wanted to take care of the whole patient. I also wanted to see when I could have the most impact on the life of a person,” Dr. Ahmad says. “During my residency when I worked in the NICU, I noted that good care in the first few minutes of life was so critical. Effective resuscitation, followed by intensive care in the NICU could make all the difference for the patient, who can then live a long and accomplished life.”

Dr. Ahmad finds inspiration in the strength of his patient’s families, and is continually renewed and humbled by their gratitude.

“I have been impressed by the strength of the families who have a sick little baby in the NICU. It is extremely difficult to have your newborn on a ventilator struggling for life. Yet, we see the moms and dads holding on to hope and being there for their baby,” Dr. Ahmad says. “Neonatology is a very difficult field with long hours taking care of very sick babies. The gratitude you get from parents when the baby is finally well and going home and the amazing photographs and cards that are sent to us makes everything worthwhile.”

In his spare time, Dr. Ahmad enjoys golfing with his children and developing his photography skills.

Learn more about neonatal services at CHOC Children’s.

CHOC Children’s Opens New NICU with All Private Rooms

CHOC Children’s Hospital has opened its new neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) with 36 private rooms, a feature that will allow parents the opportunity to stay close to their newborns receiving intensive care.

A patient room in CHOC’s new NICU

The 25,000-square-foot unit nearly triples the size of the hospital’s previous Level 4 NICU, which included an open layout that grouped patients in pod-style beds.

The new unit, located on the fourth floor of CHOC’s Bill Holmes Tower, creates a homey atmosphere with sleeping quarters and storage space outfitted in warm colors and wooden accents to help parents feel more comfortable while their infants receive highly specialized care for extended periods of time.

“CHOC is proud to offer private rooms to our smallest patients and their parents,” said Dr. Vijay Dhar, medical director of CHOC’s NICU. “No one’s vision of parenthood includes a NICU stay, but our new unit will provide parents with the space and privacy to get to know their new baby, and reassurance that they’ll be nearby while their newborn receives the highest level of care.”

Private NICU rooms are a new standard for improved patient outcomes. Benefits for babies cared for in single-family rooms include higher weight at discharge and more rapid weight gain. Also, they require fewer medical procedures and experience less stress, lethargy and pain. Researchers have attributed these findings to increased maternal involvement.

A nurses station in CHOC’s new NICU

A private-room setting provides space and privacy sought by parents to breastfeed, practice skin-to-skin bonding, and be more intimately involved in their baby’s care. Further, individual rooms allow parents to stay overnight with their newborn, and give staff more access and interaction with the family and patient.

In addition to private rooms, the new space includes other features that will enhance patient care. Should an infant need a sudden surgical procedure, three rooms within the unit can quickly be converted into space for surgeries. The unit will also include a life-saving extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) unit. Rooms that adjoin can be used to accommodate triplets.

Safety features include same-handed rooms, wherein equipment is positioned in the same location among all rooms to reduce human error; room-adjacent nursing alcoves; and an in-unit nutrition lab for the preparation of breast milk and formula.

CHOC’s new unit also features a family dining space, a room dedicated for siblings, a lactation room and other amenities to ensure the comfort of the entire family.

The CHOC Children’s Foundation has raised $4,381,984 toward the new NICU, including lead gifts from the Argyros Family Foundation, Credit Unions for Kids and philanthropist Margaret Sprague.

For several decades, CHOC has served infants requiring the highest level of care. With the unit’s opening, CHOC’s neonatal services now include 72 beds at CHOC Orange and the CHOC Children’s NICU at St. Joseph Hospital, and 22 beds at CHOC Children’s at Mission Hospital. In addition, a team of premier CHOC neonatologists care for babies at hospitals throughout Southern California.

A room dedicated for NICU patients’ siblings

A suite of specialized services comprises the CHOC NICU: the Surgical NICU, which provides dedicated care to babies needing or recovering from surgery; the Small Baby Unit, where infants with extremely low birth weights receive coordinated care; the Neurocritical NICU, where babies with neurological problems are cohorted; and the Cardiac NICU, which provides comprehensive care for neonates with congenital heart defects.

Visit www.choc.org/nicu to learn more about CHOC’s neonatal services.

 

 

CHOC Neonatology by the Numbers

In honor of Prematurity Awareness Month, we share an inside look at our neonatologists and services they provide to care for babies daily in Orange County. CHOC Children’s is proud to have a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) rated by the American Academy of Pediatrics as a Level 4 – the highest rating available. Our NICU is also rated among the top 35 NICUs in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. CHOC is proud to be entrusted with giving babies a healthy start.

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CHOC Surgical NICU Reduces Post-Op Hypothermia in Infants

Consistent, standardized efforts across several disciplines helped CHOC Children’s reduce rates of post-operative hypothermia in neonates by nearly 88 percent, results of a quality improvement project show.

Staff decreased the number of babies who returned to the Surgical Neonatal Intensive Care Unit with body temperatures below 36 degrees Celsius from 10.7 percent to 1.3 percent following surgeries between September 2014 and August 2015.

Due to high body surface area, infants undergoing surgery are at risk for hypothermia, especially premature infants with decreased subcutaneous and brown fat. Hypothermia-induced vasoconstriction can lead to impaired wound healing, surgical site infections, impaired coagulation and decreased drug metabolisms, which can collectively increase perioperative morbidity, said Dr. Irfan Ahmad, co-director of the unit.

Though CHOC’s baseline figure was well below the national average rate of 15.6 percent, reducing post-operative hypothermia rates wasmock-surgery-1 identified as an area for quality improvement for the Surgical NICU and staff set out to reduce rates by half, Dr. Ahmad said.

Involving a cross-disciplinary team including nurses, neonatologists, surgeons and anesthesiologists, the project tracked 76 patients. Because infants can be at risk for hypothermia before surgery, intra-operatively and post-operatively, their temperatures were tracked during each operative stage. Staff were then able to identify problem areas and make improvements over each quarter.

Dr. Ahmad attributed the success to consistently implementing measures such as ensuring patients wore hats and blankets while headed to the operating room; pre-warming transport isolettes before placing babies inside; and using intra-operative heating devices during procedures.

Dr. Ahmad presented this data earlier this month to a quality congress held by the Vermont Oxford Network, a nonprofit, voluntary collaboration of health care professionals dedicated to the quality and safety of medical care for newborns and their families.

CHOC established its Surgical NICU in October 2013, and remains one of a handful of hospitals nationwide to cohort infants needing and recovering from surgery in a dedicated space.

Surgical NICU patients receive care from a multidisciplimock-surgery-4nary team that includes neonatologists, surgeons and many other clinicians. The surgical NICU team cares for patients jointly, discussing the cases as a group and forming a treatment plan that often calls for the expertise of other specialties.

Patients and families are a key component of the surgical NICU care team, collaborating and partnering with clinicians on every stage of the patient’s care.

The Surgical NICU rounds out CHOC’s expansive suite of services for neonates, including a main NICU; the Small Baby Unit, where infants with extremely low birth weights receive coordinated care; the Neurocritical NICU, where babies with neurological problems are cohorted; and the Cardiac NICU, which provides comprehensive care for neonates with congenital heart defects.

Learn more about CHOC’s neonatal services.

CHOC Small Baby Unit Serves as Model at Conference

VON 1Dozens of representatives from neonatal intensive care units nationwide recently toured CHOC Children’s Small Baby Unit (SBU) and learned how to replicate the facility in their own hospitals as part of a conference held by the Vermont Oxford Network (VON).

About 50 attendees spent two days this month at CHOC, touring and attending workshops and roundtable discussions. Among the sessions was “Creating a Small Baby Program: The CHOC SBU Experience,” presented by Dr. Antoine Soliman, SBU director, and Mindy Morris, DNP, SBU program coordinator and nurse practitioner.

In that session, the pair defined key components and approaches of the program that help develop a team dedicated to the care of micro-preemies; identified strategies for staff engagement in developing tools and processes to standardize the care of babies with extremely low birth weights (ELBW); examined potential challenges and barriers to the development of an ELBW team, and devised possible solutions.

Morris also shared data accumulated by the unit since it opened in 2010, as well as outcome improvements for conditions that are common for this delicate patient population.

“Families as Team Members,” covered patient andSBU_tour_VON family-centered care, including how to enhance the family experience and further staff knowledge. In this session, former SBU parents shared their experience of being a part of the patient care team.

As part of the conference, SBU staff also offered insight into their roles and responsibilities within the unit, as well as the essential tools used by the team in standardizing care for the micro-premature infant.

Conference attendees also had time to devise ways that they could apply information gained from touring the SBU into their own NICU. They also had opportunities to ask questions and seek advice from SBU staff.

The visitors came from nine hospitals – adult and children’s – throughout the country, including Children’s Hospital at Providence (Alaska); Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota; Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital (Grand Rapids, Mich.);  Stanford Children’s Health; and C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital (University of Michigan).

Founded in 1989, VON is a nonprofit, voluntary collaboration of health care professionals dedicated to the quality and safety of medical care for newborns and their families. VON comprises more than 900 NICUs worldwide.