CHOC NICU

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.