In the Spotlight: Amber Leis, M.D.

Since joining CHOC’s plastic surgery divison two years ago, Dr. Amber Leis and an expert multidisciplinary team at CHOC have developed a one-of-a-kind brachial plexus surgery program for children in the region and beyond. She is also working with her team to continue to expand services for children with facial paralysis, cerebral palsy and complex wounds.

A board-certified plastic and reconstructive surgeon, Dr. Leis treats everything from brachial plexus birth palsy, trigger thumb, syndactyly, and thumb hypoplasia, to ganglion cysts.

“I love the challenge of these cases, especially pediatric congenital hand anomalies, and I cherish the long-term relationship I build with patients,” she says.

Additionally, Dr. Leis is working on several research projects tied to brachial plexus reconstruction.

“One of these projects aims to gain consensus from experts around the globe regarding the management of specific nerve injury patterns. I spent some time in Toronto and Taipei this past year as part of this project. I am also working closely with our therapists to understand the way different rehabilitation techniques improve our outcomes,” she explains.

Dr. Leis’s interest in surgery dates back to her college years. “When I was in college I went to work in a hospital in Zimbabwe for four months to do research. While there, I ended up assisting in surgery. It changed my life, and I have been passionately pursuing surgery ever since.  My parents were both artists, and I think surgery brought my life into harmony: being from an artistic home, and being a good scientist,” she says.

Dr. Leis attended medical school at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. She completed her residency in plastic surgery at Loma Linda University Medical Center, and a fellowship in orthopedic hand surgery at University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine.

Today, Dr. Leis’s philosophy for caring for her patients is compassionate and straightforward. She puts the emotional well-being of her patients first. Her highest priority is that they feel cared for and healed, she explains.

“My patients have such a deep strength to them. They allow me into their lives and let me be part of their healing journey. They have taught me about compassion, love, and the capacity to overcome,” she says.

Dr. Leis is a member of the American Association for Hand Surgery and the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, among other professional organizations. She has presented at many conferences throughout the country and published in various publications, such as the Annals of Plastic Surgery and Aesthetic Surgery Journal.

When she is not taking care of patients at CHOC or UC Irvine Medical Center, Dr. Leis loves spending time with her husband, a filmmaker. Together, they hike, travel and dabble in photography. She also enjoys running, drawing and baking.

Learn more about plastic surgery services at CHOC.

Meet Dr. Saeed Awan

CHOC Children’s wants its referring physicians to get to know its specialists. Today, meet Dr. Saeed Awan, a pediatric general and thoracic surgeon.

 Q: What is your education and training?

A: I attended medical school at Khyber Medical College, in Pakistan. I completed my surgery residency at Memorial University of Newfoundland & Labrador, in Canada. I also completed two surgery fellowships, one at Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Edinburgh, in United Kingdom, and another at Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons, in Canada.

Q: What are your special clinical interests?

A: All aspects of pediatric and neonatal surgery, especially minimal invasive surgery. I also have expertise in liver and bile duct surgery and special interest in gastroschisis sutureless closure.

Q: How many years have you been on staff at CHOC?

A: Three and a half years.

Q: What are your most common diagnoses?

A: Inguinal and umbilical hernias, hydroceles, undescended testis, appendicitis, lumps and bumps, as well as complex congenital pediatric and neonatal conditions.

Q: Are there any new programs or developments within your specialty (at CHOC or in the broader field)?

A: I am leading the pediatric surgery outreach office at CHOC Children’s Health Center, Corona. We have seen gradual increase in referrals.

In the broader field, there has been remarkable advancement in minimally-invasive surgical procedures with similar or better results than open surgical procedures.

Q: What would you most like community/referring providers to know about you/your division at CHOC?

A: We are group of dedicated and highly-trained pediatric surgeons who strive to provide excellent care to our patients. We make sure both parents and the patients are involved in the decision making. Being a father of four children, I treat my patients as I would like to have my own children treated.

In addition to our common surgical conditions, I treat complex neonatal and gastrointestinal conditions.

Q: What inspires you most about the care being delivered here at CHOC?

A: I’m inspired by our CHOC physicians, our excellent nursing and support staff, our wide range of subspecialists, as well as our state-of-the-art facility.

In our specialty, we meet a lot of children and the smile on their and their parents’ faces  after they have recovered from surgery, makes me very happy.

Q: Why did you decide to become a pediatric surgeon?  

A: I decided to become a pediatric surgeon when I was a third-year medical student. Pediatric general surgery is a field where you are able to take care of sick kids with a wide variety of surgical diseases. Although pediatric surgery is very challenging, it is very rewarding.

Q: If you weren’t a physician, what would you be and why?

A: I might have been a pilot as I like travel.

Q: What are your hobbies/interests outside of work?

A: Travel, soccer and spending time with my children.

Baby with Rare Condition Undergoes Expert, Life-Saving Surgery at CHOC

Lizette Lough, experiencing a seemingly normal pregnancy, was making final preparations to welcome her first baby, when her water unexpectedly broke at 33 weeks. She was rushed to San Antonio Regional Hospital in Upland, close to home, where her son Landon was born early on May 3, 2016.

After a few days in the hospital, Lizette and her husband Sean noticed the baby had not made a bowel movement. Tests revealed that Landon had an obstruction in his intestine. His physician recommended Landon be transferred immediately to CHOC for an emergency surgery with Dr. Peter Yu, a pediatric general and thoracic surgeon.

“My husband and I lost it,” Lizette says. “Our baby was only three days old and weighed about 4 pounds. The thought of surgery was beyond frightening.”

Upon arrival at CHOC, the Loughs were immediately made to feel at home by the staff, who helped them find a nearby hotel. Dr. Yu explained every scenario of the complex surgery in a compassionate and confident manner, the Loughs recall.

Dr. Peter Yu, pediatric general and thoracic surgeon at CHOC.

“Landon was in stable condition when he arrived at CHOC, and I’m very pleased that our expert transport team was able to get him here quickly and safely. If there had been a delay in transfer, Landon could have become very sick and it’s very possible that more of his intestine could have died.  If that would’ve happened, he may not have had enough bowel to adequately digest food, which can be incompatible with life,” Dr. Yu says.

Landon was diagnosed with jejunal atresia, a rare condition – approximately 1 in 5,000 births – in which the small intestine is incompletely developed, leading to one or more gaps, or blockages, in the intestinal tract.

Lizette had gone through the required genetic tests prior to Landon’s birth, and jejunal atresia – often diagnosed prenatally – was not detected.

Additionally, Landon had malrotation of his intestines, which failed to coil in the proper position in the abdomen. This led to twisting of his bowel. If surgery had been delayed for longer, Landon could have died.

Landon’s surgery involved making an incision on his abdomen, examining the entire length of his intestine and untwisting it, removing the dead bowel, stitching together his small intestine, and performing a Ladd’s procedure. A Ladd’s procedure places the intestines back into the abdomen in a safe configuration to prevent future twisting of the bowel.

Landon, recovering in CHOC’s surgical NICU.

Sean, who works as a law enforcement officer, recalls how traumatic this was for his family. “I’m used to working in stressful situations, but this was a different kind of stress,” he says. “We were so happy that our baby had a successful surgery and that he was better. However, we were still waiting for him to have his first bowel movement. We were trying to stay positive.”

After his first bowel movement indicated that his intestines were recovering well, and spending about a month in CHOC’s surgical NICU, Landon was finally able to go home with his family.

“It takes a team to successfully care for sick babies and complex patients,” Dr. Yu explains. “Landon would not have had the excellent outcome that he had without our wonderful neonatologists, experienced and skilled pediatric anesthesiologists, Melissa Powell, our dedicated surgical neonatal nurse practitioner, and the outstanding NICU nurses who have dedicated their lives to taking care of newborn babies such as Landon and countless others.  Together, we have the only dedicated surgical NICU in the area, with a special focus on taking care of newborns with surgical problems.”

Landon today at 11 months.

Thanks to the expert multidisciplinary care provided at CHOC, today Landon is a happy baby, meeting all his milestones. The Loughs are enjoying their brave little boy, and look forward to his first birthday next month.

“Dr. Yu, as well as the nurses in the NICU, were so empathetic and amazing. They saw us through so much throughout our stay and we will forever be thankful,” Lizette says.

Learn more about surgical services at CHOC.

Know the Risks of Sunken Chest

Pectus excavatum, or sunken chest, is the most common congenital chest wall abnormality in children. Although some medical providers may think that the abnormality is purely a cosmetic problem, the limited chest cavity space can displace the heart as well as limit lung capacity, says Dr. Mustafa Kabeer, a pediatric surgeon at CHOC Children’s. Fifteen percent of patients can experience arrhythmia or mitral valve regurgitation, wherein the heart valves allow blood to leak back into the heart, as a result of the inward compression from the sternum.

Dr. Mustafa Kabeer, pediatric surgeon at CHOC Children’s
Dr. Mustafa Kabeer, pediatric surgeon at CHOC Children’s

Although the cause is unknown, 40 percent of patients report a family history of pectus excavatum, and 40 percent of cases occur in tandem with scoliosis, says Dr. Kabeer.

Parents may notice an indentation in their child’s chest wall either when they are first born, or closer to puberty, when changes in the chest wall can become more pronounced.

Dr. Kabeer urges medical providers to carefully evaluate symptoms, as they can be subtle and often go unnoticed. If a patient is older than 10 years with pectus deformities, he asks medical providers to look for signs of shortness of breath, difficulty breathing during exercise, unexplained dizziness, occasional chest pain or progressing changes in chest wall appearance.  Some patients notice they are not able to keep up with their peers. If they show even mild symptoms that were not previously recognized, they should be referred to the pectus excavatum team at CHOC, he explains.

The multidisciplinary team is comprised of experts in pediatric pulmonology, cardiology and surgery. The team performs various testing to examine heart and lung function, before and after surgery that expands the chest wall. By using the latest techniques in minimally invasive surgery that dramatically reduces the appearance of incisions, along with recent improvements in pain management, patients are able to return home and get back to their daily activities sooner than ever before.

“We have a comprehensive team ready to evaluate these patients because chances are high that they have some compromise on the cardiopulmonary system given the compression of the sternum. This is not generally noticeable until they are in some kind of increased activity at which point the increased demand from the body has difficulty being met by the heart and lungs,” Dr. Kabeer says.

“These patients should be referred to pediatric surgeons because we are trained in the minimally invasive procedure and should be the first line approach to this problem; there is no need to put a child through a more invasive operation that is not needed,” he adds.

Dr. Kabeer recommends the following referral guidelines:

  • Age < 10 years can be monitored and symptoms and severity of deformity based only on exam should be logged. No studies are necessary at this time unless symptoms are severe at which point, they should be referred to the pectus excavatum team at CHOC, but workup is not necessary prior to referral.
  • Age >10 years with very mild pectus deformities and with no symptoms can be referred or observed.
  • Age >10 years with pectus deformities that are moderate or severe with or without symptoms and mild deformity with symptoms should be referred to the pectus excavatum team at CHOC. No imaging or workup is necessary until seen by the pediatric surgeon.

To contact Dr. Kabeer, or to refer a patient, please call 714-364-4050.

Learn more about CHOC’s surgical services.

Meet Dr. Maryam Gholizadeh

CHOC Children’s wants its referring physicians to get to know its specialists. Today, meet Dr. Maryam Gholizadeh, a pediatric surgeon.

Dr. Maryam Gholizadeh

Q: What is your education and training?

A: I attended medical school at George Washington University, and completed my residency at Eastern Virginia Medical School. I completed a pediatric surgery fellowship at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington D.C., and a pediatric surgical oncology fellowship at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York.

Q: What are your administrative appointments?

A: Pediatric surgery chief; chief of department of surgery; member of credentialing committee; member of medical executive committee and member of medical staff performance committee.

Q: What are your special clinical interests?

A: All aspects of pediatric and neonatal surgery, surgical oncology and minimal invasive surgery.

Q: How long have you been on staff at CHOC?

A: 13 years.

Q: What are your most common diagnoses?

A: Appendicitis, hernias, lumps and bumps, as well as complex congenital pediatric and neonatal conditions.

Q: What would you most like community/referring providers to know about your division at CHOC?

A: As a general pediatric surgery division, we can take care of a variety of conditions such as hernias, hydroceles, gastrointestinal conditions requiring surgery, thoracic conditions, oncological problems requiring surgery such as neuroblastoma, Wilms’ tumor and teratomas.

Q: What inspires you most about the care being delivered here at CHOC?

A: We have a great group of specialists at CHOC who can deliver a high quality of care to our patients.

Q: Why did you decide to become a pediatric surgeon?

A: I decided to become a pediatric surgeon when I was a third year surgical resident on pediatric surgery rotation. Pediatric general surgery is the only field where you are able to take care of a variety of conditions. I found this field extremely rewarding, at the same time challenging.

Q: If you weren’t a physician, what would you be and why?

A: An athlete. I love the challenge, the discipline, and the fact you are always trying to do your best.

Q: What are your hobbies/interests outside of work?

A: Running, cycling, skiing and playing with my dogs.

Q: What was the funniest thing a patient told you?

A: There was a young child around 8-9 years old and we were going to remove his appendix with laparoscopy. I was standing on his left side because with laparoscopy we make our incision on the left side. Just before he went to sleep he looked up at me and said, “Why are you standing on my left? My appendix is on the right.” I was amazed at how knowledgeable this kid was!