View All Articles

The Heart Center delivers world-class cardiac care

February 08, 2012


Dr. Susan DesJardins is a cardiologist at the Heart Center at Arnold Palmer Hospital. In honor of February's focus on heart health, she shares what makes The Heart Center the leader in children's cardiac care in Central Florida. 

Moving to Central Florida in 2003 was a tipping point in my life. Everyone has these events, some crystal clear at the time, and some not quite so obvious until hindsight glasses are put on decades later. Decisions like these not only affect your everyday life, but also shape the arc of your future.

I had finished my fellowship in Pediatric Cardiology in 1997, and spent the next six years in the Air Force. I had come to a crossroads: I would either stay in the military or transition to a civilian career. The beauty of military medicine was a real freedom to provide the best patient care possible. Since the military did not have dedicated pediatric cardiac surgeons, I sent my patients to the best hospitals, the best programs, and the best surgeons in the country. I never had to settle for second-rate care for any of my patients.

From that care environment, I had to find a practice that would suit me. I knew that I wouldn’t like being a small cog in a giant machine; some of the largest programs in the country have 40 or 50 cardiologists. I also would never be able to refer my patients to any but a top-notch surgeon; so many small to mid-sized programs in the country have acceptable, but not exemplary, results. Besides, having trained at one of the top programs in the country, it was hard for me to accept the idea of not being at the cutting edge.

And so I came to the Heart Center at Arnold Palmer Hospital, largely because of the quality of my colleagues-to-be, and the confidence I had in the administration, which was clearly dedicated to the pediatric cardiac program. Mostly, though, I came because of the hope I had for the Heart Center to be the kind of program where I had always hoped to work:  A program that would be able to balance the science and art of medicine. A program where I would know the patients, their families, and the pediatricians, and where each of us would be more than an ID number, or a name on a business card. A program where I would be able to grow and continue to learn as a cardiologist, and could send my patients to the cath lab, operating room, or Cardiac ICU with full confidence that they would be getting the best care available in the nation.

Somehow, over the last eight years, that has actually happened. We have gone from a program with two cardiologists and itinerant helpers, to one with six pediatric cardiologists, four cardiac intensivists, three pediatric cardiac anesthesiologists, a cardiac surgeon, and so many ancillary and integral advanced practitioners, nursing, administrators, and support staff that it is hard to get together for a holiday party any longer. We have dedicated perfusionists, pharmacists, social workers, and nutritionists caring for our inpatients. We do surgeries and interventions as complex as those performed anywhere in the world.  We lead the entire nation in outcomes for neonatal surgeries, and our outcomes for the most complex surgeries are as good as or better than any other program in the country.

Best of all, we have managed to grow without changing the model that brought me here to Florida. I still know my patients and their families, and I know their pediatricians.  I still feel like a part of the hospital community and the extended community.  I still learn every day from my colleagues and patients, and hopefully teach them something as well.

I can’t imagine a better place to do what I love.  It was a good tipping point.