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Five-year-old Faith Zhao of El Paso is the picture of health.

Unparalleled partnership

CHRISTUS’ generosity and collaboration with UT Health Science Center put children and families first in South Texas

March 2011

by Natalie Gutierrez

Naveen Mittal, M.D., holds many titles - professor, division chief and medical director. But the one title that makes him smile the most is "uncle."

"We call him Uncle Mittal," said Joanna Federico, mother of 3-year-old Andrea Federico, of El Paso. "He’s like family. Not only is he the best physician and surgeon, he is the most dedicated and caring."

Federico’s daughter, Andrea, was born with Biliary Atresia, a rare and life-threatening condition in which the bile duct between the liver and the small intestine is blocked. Andrea’s illness required liver transplant surgery, which was not available in her hometown of El Paso. On Nov. 1, 2009, Andrea underwent a pediatric liver transplant at CHRISTUS Santa Rosa Children’s Hospital in San Antonio. Dr. Mittal provided specialized medical care before and after the transplant. The procedure was the first of its kind to take place at CHRISTUS.

"After Andrea’s surgery, Dr. Mittal was at her bedside early in the morning and late into the evening. He really cares about her well-being." Federico added that Dr. Mittal continues to play a major role in her daughter’s ongoing care and treatment.

Dr. Mittal is one of five faculty members of The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio who practice at CHRISTUS Santa Rosa Children’s Hospital, thanks to endowments from the Santa Rosa Children’s Hospital Foundation totaling more than $5.2 million. Dr. Mittal holds the John and Mary Ann Whalen Memorial Distinguished Chair in Pediatric Gastroenterology.

The foundation also awarded endowments to Thomas C. Mayes, M.D., M.B.A., professor and chair of the Department of Pediatrics and physician-in-chief at CHRISTUS Santa Rosa Children’s Hospital; John H. Calhoon, M.D., professor and chair of the Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery; and Steven R. Neish, M.D., S.M., assistant professor and chief of the Division of Pediatric Cardiology. An endowment in honor of Kaye E. Wilkins, M.D., professor of pediatric orthopaedic surgery at the UT Health Science Center, was also established to recruit an outstanding pediatric orthopaedic surgeon to practice at CHRISTUS.

  Dr. Naveen Mittal gets a hug from 4-year-old Kamryn Lucio
Dr. Naveen Mittal gets a hug from 4-year-old Kamryn Lucio of Lubbock who underwent a liver transplant operation at CHRISTUS Santa Rosa Children’s Hospital in spring 2010.
Dr. Mayes, who holds the Sister Angela Clare Moran Distinguished Chair, said the endowments have allowed the UT Health Science Center to recruit and retain some of the world’s top experts in a wide range of pediatric health care specialties and subspecialties, and to establish a partnership with the children’s hospital that is unparalleled in San Antonio’s history.

"We are grateful to CHRISTUS, its foundation and administrators for their generosity and vision," Dr. Mayes said. "The endowments and the collaboration with the hospital have resulted in the development of new programs of excellence in all of our missions of clinical care, education, research and community service. By creating an academic children’s hospital partnership, we have been able to expand care to children throughout the city and South Texas and at the same time, prepare the next generation of health care providers, our medical students, residents and fellows, who participate in training programs with our faculty at the hospital."

Dr. Mayes said the Whalen endowment allowed the School of Medicine to recruit Dr. Mittal from The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas in 2009.

"Pediatric liver transplants were not available in our community for several years," Dr. Mayes said. "Dr. Mittal immediately reinvigorated our pediatric gastroenterology program and developed the pediatric liver transplant program in conjunction with our already successful University Transplant Center, our Department of Pediatrics and CHRISTUS Santa Rosa Children’s Hospital." The University Transplant Center is a partnership of University Health System and the UT Health Science Center.

Dr. Mayes said this achievement is just one example of the many successes the partnership with CHRISTUS is yielding.

Dr. Mittal is professor and chief of the Division of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Hepatology and medical director of the CHRISTUS Transplant Institute. He has expanded the pediatric liver transplant program to include five faculty physicians from the UT Health Science Center’s Divisions of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Hepatology and one from the Division of Adult Gastroenterology. The team has performed 11 pediatric liver transplants at CHRISTUS since the program’s inception.

In addition to liver transplant surgery, the team provides diagnostics and treatment for a wide array of complex diseases involving the gastrointestinal and hepatobiliary-pancreatic systems, such as inflammatory bowel disease, celiac disease, cystic fibrosis, acute and chronic liver disease, pancreatic disorders and nutrition problems.

Dr. Mittal said the collaboration between the UT Health Science Center and CHRISTUS enhances the lives of South Texas children and their families. "I am thrilled to be working in an environment where the partnership between a university and hospital offers patients top-notch health care providers, first-class facilities and equipment as well as the support of hospital and university administrators and the entire community," Dr. Mittal said.

"All of these aspects allow us to help many children and their families. We can provide care close to home so South Texas families can stay together. They don’t have to travel out of state or be separated by long expanses of time. It allows us to reach children with more immediate care so that they have the best chance for survival. There are so many ways this collaboration proves to be vital and valuable."

Fan Chen, mother of 5-year-old Faith Zhao, of El Paso, agrees. Her daughter, Faith, was born with Sclerosing Cholangitis, a disease in which the bile ducts become inflamed and scarred, leading to liver damage and eventually liver failure. On Nov. 11, 2009, Faith became CHRISTUS’ second pediatric liver transplant patient. Dr. Mittal and his transplant team guided her care.

"Dr. Mittal and his team are excellent," Chen said. "They reassured me and kept me informed throughout the entire operation. Just one week after the procedure, Faith was walking around her hospital room. It was incredible and promising to see her recovering so quickly."

Chen said the transplant team took the time to educate her about the care Faith would need post surgery. "They taught me everything I needed to know about the medications my daughter would need and put me in touch with the parents of other transplant patients so we could provide encouragement and support for one another."

Chen said her daughter continues to grow stronger and healthier every day. "Faith started out needing 10 different medications. Now she needs only two of those. She’s even taking Karate classes, which she loves. She’s having fun and can do a lot of things any 5-year-old can do. I’m so happy and thankful to Dr. Mittal, his team and CHRISTUS for helping my daughter thrive."

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