Vyas Kartha, M.D., routinely deals with nervous parents as their child prepares for a heart procedure.
A pediatric anesthesiologist who specializes in cardiac cases in the Johns Hopkins All Children’s Heart Institute, Kartha relies on some old advice.
“One of the surgeons up north that I worked with talked about how families, when they go through this, have a huge emotional change that happens in such a short period of time in trying to understand these sometimes-unexpected changes,” he says. “You try to be sensitive in talking with them. I try to reassure them that this is not just providing care for your child. This is almost like a family member because we really are possessive of our patients because we share what the families have been through and are going through.”
“I tell them, ‘Your baby is now a member of our family — for the rest of the child’s life.’”
Kartha has one more point that sometimes can create a connection with families. He has undergone open-heart surgery himself in 2007.
“I try to reassure them that I have gone through being on the heart-lung machine and survived,” he says.
We spoke with Kartha about his career, his outside interests and how he got interested in pediatric cardiac anesthesiology.
What made you choose pediatric anesthesiology?
I have an aunt who was my inspiration. She was an anesthesiologist at Cook County Hospital in Chicago and was the acting chair there for over 10 years. I think she was recruited there by Alon Winnie, who was a pioneer in anesthesiology.
She was really my inspiration, so I went to spend time with her. I realized how much I enjoyed it. I enjoyed the physiology and the pathology, the procedural component to it. There’s a lot of thought that goes into it because you're constantly trying to anticipate what's going on physiologically.
How did you develop a specialty in cardiac anesthesia?
I did my residency at Loyola University Medical Center near Chicago. My aunt recommended I go there. At that time, Loyola was extremely busy with a lot of cardiac cases, mostly adult, not pediatrics. I did a rotation for a couple of months at Children’s Memorial downtown (now Lurie Children’s Hospital) and got a different flavor for pediatrics and had a couple of attendings at Loyola who kind of inspired me to go into pediatric anesthesia.
What is a typical day like for an anesthesiologist?
There are really just two of us who primarily focus on cardiac anesthesia (soon to be three), so we have a very intimate relationship with not just the cardiac surgeons and the cardiac interventional catheterization physicians, but also the cardiologists as well as our patients. Some of them are repeat customers that come for a number of procedures, therefore we get to know them very fairly well along with their family.
On any given day, we start about 7 a.m. We have conferences that we attend in the CVICU just to get a feel for what's going on. Then we'll start cases anywhere from 7:30 to 9 a.m. On Wednesdays, we have a surgical conference where we talk about cases that are coming up and then on Fridays we have a heart flight plan where we have a retrospective review of all the kids that have come through to have had surgery, looking for opportunities for improvement from a process perspective and a programmatic perspective. Later in the day, there are either cases or various meetings that I attend.
We also help our colleagues in the Department of Anesthesiology. There are kids that go from our unit to other special procedures that we help with.
What made you want to work at Johns Hopkins All Children’s?
I joined All Children’s in 2005 before Johns Hopkins came down. I got recruited here by a guy who went to fellowship at the same place that I did. I had practices elsewhere for nearly nine years. Some things at my former hospital had changed, and it was hard to pass up the sunny days in February on the beach. About five to six years after I came, Hopkins came and we’ve become a more academic-oriented place.
What do you do to take your mind off work?
When my son was younger, he wanted to learn the guitar, so I learned the bass and we took lessons together for a while. He stopped because he got busy with school, but I kept playing. I’ve played in bands with Dr. Q (James Quintessenza) and others. It’s a nice diversion.
I also enjoy boating and golfing and spending time with my wife and our three dogs.
You mentioned your son. Tell us about your kids.
My daughter works in social work services in the hospital’s Outpatient Care Center. It’s nice having her here even though we don’t see each other that much.
My son is passionate about Asia, and he has been in China for more than two years. He went over there before COVID-19. There was a lot of apprehension in the family about him being there, but we talk to him often and the experience you hear from him doesn’t really fit the image that we have. He teaches English and makes videos about ancient cities in China. It’s a lot different from what you expect.
What does American Heart Month mean to you?
Heart Month is every month for me, but this is an opportunity to let the world know about the kinds of things kids are facing. We’re taking time to think about these kids, their future and what we can do to help them.