For Gurumurthy Hiremath, MD, treating patients with congenital heart defects is like solving a complex puzzle.
Hiremath, a pediatric cardiologist at the Pediatric Heart Center at University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital, loves his work in interventional cardiology. We asked Hiremath to tell us why he was drawn to work in pediatrics, the complex nature of his work and his travels abroad to help patients in other countries.
I’m an interventional pediatric cardiologist, which means that I often perform cardiac catheterizations in children and adults diagnosed with congenital heart disease. Using catheters—which are long, thin tubes inserted through blood vessels, then guided to the heart—I am able to correct or repair several heart conditions and defects. Following this minimally invasive approach, we are able close holes in the upper chambers and lower chambers of the heart, for example. We can also open up narrow blood vessels using stents or balloons attached to a catheter. In some circumstances, we are also asked to create holes to make a heart work properly. We can even implant new heart valves through this approach without the need for open heart surgery. These are procedures we can perform in people of all ages, ranging from a newborn infant to an 85-year-old patient.
I chose to do pediatrics when I was working and training in India because of my love for children. During my pediatric residency, one of my attending physicians treated a child with congenital heart disease who later passed away. Because of that experience, I decided to get the best-possible training in pediatric cardiology. There are a lot of children with congenital heart disease—it’s the most common congenital defect and affects up to 3 to 5 percent of the population. Some defects are very complex and life-threatening. Despite this, there are still not many pediatric cardiologists in the world. On a related note, I enjoy fixing things; every heart catheterization procedure is like a jigsaw I need to solve on behalf of my patients.
Because I am a physician in an academic medical system, I am involved in clinical work, public education and health research, which is rare combination to find. I love my job here. I think it gives me a wide variety of patients to work with. University of Minnesota Medical Center and University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital often see patients who are too sick to be treated in other hospitals in Minnesota and across the region. They come to here because we’ll see everyone, no matter how complex their case.
It’s rewarding for me to fix a relatively serious heart condition in an infant without a traditional surgical incision, then see that patient wake up after the procedure with a smile on their face. I also love the sense of satisfaction I feel when I have helped someone, which is amplified when I see the gratitude in their eyes. I believe I’m very privileged to be able to serve my young patients in that way, not only here but in other countries as well.
I travel to other countries as part of mission trips sponsored by several foundations. We often stay for a week and do 14 to 15 surgical procedures in five or six days. We try to help as many people as possible, but we also help train local cardiologists so they can continue to assist patients after we’re gone. I try to go at least once a year.