Holly Bauser-Heaton, MD, Sibley pediatric cardiologist, says her mom keeps a picture she drew as a little girl that showed her doing surgery on a patient. It bears a striking resemblance to the work she does now in Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Heart Center’s pediatric cath lab.
“Anytime there is a public mention of me or my work, I can tell my mom is very proud,” Dr. Bauser-Heaton said. “She tells me with tears in her eyes, ‘You’re doing exactly what you said you were going to do at 3 years old.’”
In addition to working as an interventional cardiologist in the cath lab, Dr. Bauser-Heaton runs a science lab, where she investigates the developing heart and pulmonary vasculature, producing 3-D structures to study how to treat pulmonary artery and vein disease. She said she loves the science behind vasculature and the opportunity to meet patients and families and bring it all together.
What’s so fulfilling about the cath lab is that we provide information that no one else can,” Dr. Bauser-Heaton said. “We figure out the puzzle pieces and have the opportunity to work with all the departments from outpatient to ICU to surgical. We’re right in the middle of the action, and it’s lovely to give families the good news that we were able to cure a patient’s heart disease without open heart surgery.”
Dr. Bauser-Heaton says she enjoys the unique connection she has with the other physicians in the cath lab. Although only about 20 percent of interventional cardiologists are women, she said she’s never felt isolated in her role.
“Sibley doesn’t leave you on your own, and that’s the Sibley way,” she said. “Everyone comes together to make patient outcomes better, kind of like a team sport. As one of three physicians in the cath lab, we spend more time together during the week than we do with our own families, so it becomes like a family away from home. We understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and we’re there to back each other up no matter what.”
Dr. Bauser-Heaton is now a mom herself to a 9-year-old daughter and a sibling group of three she and her husband are in the process of adopting. She says the long hours and heavy demands of her job can sometimes be difficult, but she knows her children see what she’s doing, and she hopes they will be inspired to follow their own passions when they grow up.
“It can be hard to be away from your family, but you know you’re doing the right thing and giving other families the chance to have time with their kids,” she said. “My daughter is now becoming the age where she understands more. If I apologize to her for being late, she says, ‘It’s okay, mom, you were saving babies.”
Dr. Bauser-Heaton says having children has changed her approach to patients and families. She looks back on some of the things she asked parents to do in the past and realizes how hard it can be, especially when they have other children at home. Two of her adopted children have special needs, which opened her eyes to what families must go through when navigating public systems.
“People will tell you there are all these support systems available to you, but what you don’t see is how difficult it can be to make hundreds of phone calls and not have people call you back. There’s so much about the public system that doesn’t work the way we all think it does,” she said. “As physicians, we have to be practical. Having kids has changed what I think are acceptable expectations of CHD families.”
As a cardiomyopathy cardiac patient herself, she also understands how challenging CHD is from the young patients’ perspectives. She recognizes their need to have the space to cry, whine and have their sad feelings validated.
Dr. Bauser-Heaton advocates for the need of women professionals with children to be open and honest about the challenges they face. Women often shoulder much of the childcare responsibilities and can experience guilt about how they approach both motherhood and their jobs.
“What I love about this place is that there are a lot of women,” she said. “I talk with other women who balance the same things I do, and I’m able to see that you can be an amazing cardiologist and an amazing mom. We talk through our struggles together, and we share practical tips for making things work. I’m indebted to these women.”
“I’ve been asked if I didn’t do this, what would I do? And I can’t think of a single thing,” Dr. Bauser-Heaton said. “This job is so meaningful and a beautiful testament to my kids. I hope when they grow up, they will say, ‘I want to be as passionate about my job as my mom is.’”
Holly Bauser-Heaton, MD, PhD
- Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, Emory University School of Medicine
- MD: Indiana University School of Medicine
- Residency: Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center
- Fellowship: Stanford University School of Medicine
Areas of Focus:
- Interventional Cardiology
- Cardiac Intensive Care
For more information about Sibley Heart Center Cardiology and our pediatric cardiology specialists, click here.