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What Procedures Take Place in the Cath Lab?

Nathan was diagnosed at age 6 with a left pulmonary artery that wasn’t connected properly. Doctors proposed placing a stent through the pediatric cardiac cath lab to open his left artery, which was about a fourth of the size it should have been. The hope was that by placing a stent and allowing blood to flow through, the artery would grow large enough for doctors to surgically connect his artery correctly in the future. The procedure was successful, saving Nathan from additional open heart surgery, and doctors reconstructed the pulmonary artery to connect successfully two years later.

Dennis Kim, MD, PhD, is director of the Pediatric Cardiac Catheterization Laboratories at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Heart Center, where four cardiologists who specialize in catheter-based cardiac procedures diagnose and treat children with congenital heart disease. Children’s Heart Center has one of the busiest pediatric cath labs in the country, with the ability to provide the entire spectrum of therapeutic options. In addition, they are part of several device trials for new innovative devices coming onto the market.

Cardiac catheterization is a procedure where a long thin tube called a catheter is inserted in an artery or vein in the patient´s groin, neck or arm and threaded through the blood vessels to the heart. There are two general categories of procedures performed in the cath lab: diagnostic and interventional. Diagnostic procedures include assessing a patient’s pressure and flow numbers prior to surgery or after a transplant, information only obtainable by catheterization rather than echocardiogram. Interventional procedures are therapeutic in nature and minimally invasive.

There is a wide variety of procedures we do in the cath lab, including opening up narrowed vessels throughout the entire circulatory system, pulmonary arteries or the aorta or veins,” Dr. Kim said. “We also do procedures that have previously only had a surgical option, like closing holes between the heart’s upper chambers or lower chambers or the implantation of some heart valves.”

For patients who are eligible, the advantages of a catheter-based cardiac procedure over open heart surgery is a drastically reduced recovery time, a quicker return to school and no scars on the chest from the procedure.

“I really like doing what I do,” Dr. Kim said. “All four of us come to work excited about what we can offer to our patients. The technology has emerged rapidly in the past 20 years, and we can now do things unheard of just a decade ago. For sure, the future of cardiac therapies for children and adults with CHD will involve further advances in transcatheter therapies.”

To learn more about pediatric heart disease and cardiac interventions, visit

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