Sustaining life during surgery

Our pediatric perfusionists are skilled allied-health professionals trained and educated specifically as members of the congenital heart surgery team. They are responsible for the selection, setup and operation of the heart-lung machine and any other circulation equipment during medical procedures where it is necessary to support or temporarily replace a patient’s respiratory or circulatory functions.

The patient’s heart is stopped during surgery so it is easier for the surgeon to operate. Using the heart-lung machine, the perfusionist diverts the patient’s blood away from the heart and lungs into the machine. The heart-lung machine oxygenates that blood and returns it to the patient’s body.

Physiological care

The perfusionist’s job is to keep the child’s body in physiological balance, as though it were working on its own under normal circumstances. Doing so requires the use of heating and cooling equipment.

At the beginning of surgery, the perfusionist cools the blood to lower the patient’s body temperature. Cooling the blood slows the patient’s metabolism so that he or she requires less oxygen. Toward the end of surgery, the perfusionist warms the blood to a normal temperature.