When R. Allen Ligon Jr, MD, returned to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Heart Center in the Fall of 2021, one of his charges was to create a multi-disciplinary care team for cardiac catheter patent ductus arteriosus (PDA) closures in tiny, premature babies. In April 2022, he and the Children’s Cardiac Cath Lab team successfully completed a PDA closure in an ex-22.3-week premature infant weighing less than two pounds. This was one of the smallest ever performed in the nation.
Having this procedure now available in Georgia means that babies who have not responded well to medication can avoid the extra risks of undergoing heart surgery to close their PDA. While all babies in utero have a PDA, it typically closes shortly after birth. However, the majority of babies born extremely premature have a PDA that remains open, which can cause serious complications by allowing excess blood to flow to already underdeveloped and compromised lungs.
“Having a PDA and being a preemie is very common and is, in fact, more common than having a congenital heart disease,” Dr. Ligon said. “The traditional treatment has been to surgically insert a clip on the vessel, which can be associated with ample risks in a medically fragile infant. The demand has been historically high, but we didn’t have great options. Providing a nonsurgical option is revolutionary.”
Dr. Ligon works in the Children’s Cath Lab at Egleston, where he also serves as the director of the PDA Closure Program, along with providing outpatient clinical care at Sibley Heart Center Cardiology’s Stockbridge clinic. He said Children’s has built an infrastructure that can provide excellent comprehensive care, and that he enjoys the massive team collaboration which takes place among the various disciplines.
“In the Cath Lab, we’re leading the way in regard to innovation and providing services, interventions and technology that is on the forefront of medical advances,” Dr. Ligon said. “It’s exciting to be part of that. But to me, the most fulfilling aspect of my job is building relationships with families as a proceduralist. You’re walking with them through what can be a very scary process, and I’m honored by the trust they place in us as a team.”
Dr. Ligon also conducts multi-institutional clinical research as part of the Congenital Cardiac Research Collaborative (CCRC). Founded in 2015, the CCRC is a multi-center research consortium of invasive and non-invasive congenital cardiologists and cardiac surgeons with a common goal to advance pediatric and adult congenital cardiac research. The group is leading the way in regard to advancing research within the field and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta remains an active member.
Dr. Ligon is an avid whitewater kayaker and enjoys being on the rapids in the north Georgia mountains. He and his wife Ashley LeFevre, who is an anesthesiologist at Children’s, also enjoy hiking and mountain biking. They have a 3-year-old toddler (and a baby girl on the way!) who all love to gather with friends and cheer on their beloved Georgia Bulldogs during football season.
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