New Doctor Recruited to Lead Cardiac Surgery Program at Rady Children's
John Lamberti, MD, has recruited John J. Nigro, MD, to take over and lead the program Lamberti developed
Dr. Nigro and Dr. Lamberti | Photo by Becca Batista
Pediatric heart surgeon John Lamberti, MD, recently ran into a former patient at Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. But it had been quite a while since this patient had seen the inside of a crib. About 40 years, in fact.
The former patient suffered from an unusual cardiac defect as a child in the 1970s, and Dr. Lamberti successfully performed open-heart surgery on him. He’s a grown man now, with a newborn who needed intensive care, and he wanted to say hello to the surgeon who’d saved his own life.
It’s not uncommon for Dr. Lamberti, who developed Rady Children’s cardiac surgery program, to have this sort of encounter. In fact, he says, “I’ve operated more than once on a child of someone I operated on when they were a child. I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to make a difference across generations.”
Now he’s embracing another kind of generational change. He has recruited John J. Nigro, MD, to lead the cardiac surgery program, direct cardiac transplantation, and replace him as director of Rady Children’s Heart Institute.
Fortunately, Dr. Lamberti has no plans to stop working. “His devotion to children is extraordinary,” Dr. Nigro says. “Kids and their parents respond to his character and confidence. And thanks to Dr. Lamberti, who’s a national leader in treating congenital heart disease, we’ve become one of the top cardiac centers in the country.”
Indeed, Rady Children’s Cardiovascular/Cardiothoracic Division has been ranked No. 17 in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Its physicians perform about 500 surgeries a year, exclusively for the treatment of congenital heart defects, and have begun offering heart transplants. Just two years ago, a four-month-old boy at Rady Children’s became San Diego’s youngest-ever heart transplant recipient.
The cardiac program is so prestigious that a hospital in Hawaii has partnered with Rady Children’s and now brings San Diego heart surgeons to the Aloha State to perform procedures on children with congenital heart conditions.
Dr. Lamberti and Dr. Nigro are dreaming big: They want the Rady Children’s cardiac program to become the best in the nation, if not the world, for treatment of congenital heart disease.
“If anyone can do it, it’s Dr. Nigro,” says Dr. Lamberti. “He’s a perfect fit for us because of his unique qualifications as both a heart transplant surgeon and a specialist in complex pediatric heart surgery. He’s a leader in these fields, and he’ll be able to move us forward by uniting our teams, expanding our programs, and aggressively pushing for higher performance.”
Dr. Nigro wants to focus on improving the long-term quality of life for pediatric patients and using the research capabilities of the Heart Institute to move cardiac care forward. “We want to reach a day when we’ll be able to repair hearts in the womb,” he says, “and even use the power of genetic treatments to reverse cardiac problems before they take hold.”
Dr. Nigro also looks forward to working with donors. Philanthropy, the cornerstone of Rady Children’s success, will play a crucial role in the future of the cardiac program. Generous donations have helped Rady Children’s to explore alternatives to open-heart surgery, develop a 30-bed Acute Cardiac Unit, and create San Diego’s first 3-D Heart Modeling Program.
“Thanks to Dr. Lamberti and the generosity of benefactors,” Dr. Nigro says, “Rady Children’s is able to offer an extraordinary level of cardiac care to our patients from San Diego and beyond. We’re proud of what we’ve accomplished, but we know there is much more to do.”