Before the President’s Cup golf match kicked off in New York last week, there was a luncheon at which Dr. Kristine Guleserian, who you know from our book SURGEON’S STORY, was asked to speak and introduce the “First Lady of Golf,” Barbara Nicklaus, wife of golf great Jack, and patron of Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami, where Dr. G is now working. Here’s the transcript of Dr. G’s remarks…
Good afternoon to everyone and thank you all for being here today to honor the First Lady of the United States, Melania Trump, and the First Lady of Golf, Barbara Nicklaus. My name is Dr. Kristine Guleserian—I am a Pediatric Heart Surgeon and the Director of the Heart Transplant Program at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital. Like Patty McDonald, I too am very grateful to Linda Bouchard and the entire Bouchard family for their generosity in establishing what I know will be an extraordinary Healing Garden—for our patients and for their families.
What I hope to do in the next few minutes is share with you a glimpse of what our Heart Program is all about.
As many of you know, in the United States birth defects continue to be the leading cause of death in infants, many of whom have congenital heart defects that require lifesaving surgery in the first year of life, many in the first week, first few days, and some within just hours of birth. As a heart surgeon, I have always considered it a privilege to operate on and take care of the tiniest and sickest babies whose families have entrusted me and my team with their babies’ lives.
For me the journey is also a personal one. My younger brother Michael was born with a congenital heart defect called tetralogy of Fallot and he required open heart surgery as an infant back in the 1970s when the risk of dying from that type of repair was ~50%. Thankfully with surgical innovation and advances in technology the risk of dying from that same type of repair today is less than 1%.
At the age of 4 I knew I had it all figured out—I was going to become a heart surgeon to help babies just like Michael. After medical school, after 12 years of surgical training and after sub-specialty fellowship training in congenital heart surgery at Boston Children’s Hospital/Harvard Medical School where my brother underwent his surgical repairs I finally landed my first job at the age of 37…over a decade ago. I am very proud to be one of only a handful of female congenital heart surgeons in the world, always tough breaking into the boys club! I think everybody in this room knows exactly what I am talking about. I can assure you there is never a line for the ladies room at our national heart surgery conventions!
Now when I fly back to Miami tonight I’ll be gearing up to operate on a newborn baby with that very same heart defect. This baby weighs less that 5 lb and was emergently evacuated from San Juan, Puerto Rico amidst the devastation from Hurricane Maria. He is in our Cardiac Intensive Care Unit alone with his mother but no other family. To me this is where the Healing Garden fits right in—a place for families to escape to when their lives have been completely uprooted whether from a hurricane or from a diagnosis of a congenital heart defect they had no idea about. All of this can be quite overwhelming.
Before I left for New York I wanted to get a better understanding of this little baby’s complex heart anatomy so I could plan my operation. Luckily with advanced imaging techniques we were able to print a 3D model of his tiny heart. Here it is.
Some of you may be wondering why there is a walnut on each of your plates (some wondering if that was all there would be for lunch). As you can see the heart of a newborn baby is truly the size of a walnut.
Heart surgery—like a winning golf game—requires intense preparation and precision. The so-called 10,000 hours popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in his book The Tipping Poin . This type of 3D printing technology in my mind is a game changer. We can see what the heart looks like ahead of time and plan our operations accordingly.
We are very grateful to T. Denny Sanford and Sanford Health whose transformational philanthropy—orchestrated by Barbara and Jack Nicklaus—has allowed our 3D printing program to flourish and has enabled us to also develop one of the few Personalized Medicine Programs in the country designed specifically for children—and the only program that focuses on the individual child at the molecular level—in terms of genetics and genomics—as related to the family and community. Some patients may respond to a particular medication or surgical procedure while others may not. Analysis of each person’s individual DNA—this personalized approach to medicine—takes away the guessing game.
So, it is this type of innovation, advanced technology, and development of novel programs that influenced most influenced my decision to join the Heart Program at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital. Our long-term vision has always been for globalization of these efforts.