Little Heart Heroes: OMI Brings Pediatric Expertise to Slovakia

Apr 18, 2024

“I’m talking about DiGeorge syndrome now, which I’ve been studying most of my life. It often appears in children with congenital heart defects,” says Dr. Elizabeth Goldmuntz, a pediatric cardiologist from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Over 50 Slovak doctors eagerly followed her keynote lecture during a recent OMI satellite symposium hosted in Bratislava from April 13-14, 2024.

After a one-week seminar at the Open Medical Institute in Salzburg, CHOP experts, Dr. Elizabeth Goldmuntz and Dr. Joseph W. Rossano, traveled to Slovakia to teach local physicians about the latest updates in their field.

“It is very important to maintain contact with foreign experts. Especially with those who set the trend, so that we can capture it and bring it to our patients,” says Dr. Martin Zahorec, Deputy of the Pediatric Cardiac Center of NUSCH. “Putting our heads together in medicine always means a benefit for the patient. To choose the best option for our children in difficult situations is our common goal,” adds Dr. Zahorec.

He and Dr. Lubica Kovacikova, Director of the center’s ICU, are two OMI alumni, who in the past decades put an enormous effort into creating a brighter future for children with heart conditions in Slovakia. Ongoing support through the OMI and CHOP has enabled the Slovak doctors to make a powerful impact on progressing life-saving work.

“Children are not little adults, but they need a completely different approach and special knowledge. That’s what my colleagues and I work on every day: Educating ourselves, and finding new innovative approaches,” says Dr. Joseph W. Rossano, Chief of Cardiology and Co-Director of the Cardiac Center at CHOP.

Continuous education and professional growth are of great importance. This statement is confirmed by the case of a 7-year-old boy currently waiting for a heart transplant at the Pediatric Cardiac Center in Bratislava. The dedicated doctors are the ones who can make him and his parents the happiest people in the world.

This little hero, who is on artificial heart support, has been waiting for a new heart in the ICU for fourth months. He is greatly supported by his parents. “We’ve gotten used to it. This is like our “second home”. We are very satisfied with the care provided to our son” says the boy’s mother. The boy is already looking forward to going home and admits that he likes basketball.

The aim of the symposium, which included didactic lectures, case discussions, round tables, and a hospital visit, was to educate and empower Slovak doctors to continue practicing medicine in their country.

“The biggest problem is that Western countries don’t train enough doctors for their needs, so they try to get doctors from wherever they can. This is why we focus on ensuring that physicians do not leave their countries by offering them state-of-the-art education,” explains Dr. Wolfgang Aulitzky, CEO of the OMI.

The Cardiac Center at CHOP is one of the world’s leading pediatric heart centers, caring for children with acquired and congenital heart conditions. Patient outcomes are among the best in the world, placing CHOP in the top tier of pediatric cardiac programs.

We would like to thank our partner institutions and local hosts for making this symposium such a success and are looking forward to ongoing collaboration.

Click here to watch a TV report on the symposium by Noviny!

Part of this blog post was translated from Slovakian to English from Noviny’s article published online on April 14, 2024.

Background Information:

Established in 1992, the Pediatric Cardiac Center offers care for children with congenital and acquired heart conditions. It counts 800 admissions, 300 surgeries, and 8,500 outpatient visits annually. Since its inception 30 years ago, more than 9,200 surgeries and 9,300 catheterization procedures have been performed, saving thousands of children’s lives in Slovakia.

The development of the center was initially supported by a five-year Project HOPE initiative funded by the US Agency for International Development. Medical expertise came from the Boston Children’s Hospital. Later, Dr. Gil Wernovsky, a Project HOPE team member, joined the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the American-Slovak cooperation continued through the CHOP Cardiac Center.

Observerships for Slovak physicians and nurses at CHOP helped them implement changes in the pediatric cardiac programs, including cardiac computer tomography, cardiac magnetic resonance imaging, exercise training, simulation training, and neuro-cardiac care. Slovak attendance at the annual CHOP update conferences provided a continuous source of information on the latest innovations in the field. In addition, CHOP experts regularly traveled to Bratislava to offer clinical teaching and supervision. Simultaneously, doctors from the center met and exchanged with CHOP faculty at numerous OMI seminars in Salzburg and various local OMI satellite symposia. In 2012, during an OMI satellite symposium, CHOP faculty Dr. R. Lee Vogel initiated a video conferencing project. The US Embassy in Bratislava offered its video conference room and later donated the device to the center. Ever since, every two months, Slovak doctors present complex patient cases to CHOP experts. To date, more than 140 cases have been discussed during more than 50 video conferences. Over 40 CHOP faculty members participated actively in these transatlantic medical consultations. One-third of the cases recommended significant divergence from current diagnostic and therapeutic plans. The recommendations were fully or partially adopted in more than 90% of the cases.