Monday, November 7, 2011

Q&A with Pediatric Surgeon and Researcher Cassandra Kelleher, MD

Cassandra M. Kelleher, MD

Cassandra M. Kelleher, MD

Cassandra Kelleher, MD, is a surgeon and researcher at MassGeneral Hospital for Children (MGHfC). She sees patients at MGHfC in Boston and at Brigham and Women's/Mass General Health Care Center in Foxborough, MA. She is also a new mother.

Q: What procedures do you most commonly perform? What are your specialties?

Hernias are the most common pediatric surgical procedure, but I have a lot of skill and experience doing laparoscopic and thoracoscopic surgery, which are minimally invasive and include treatment of lung and gastrointestinal diseases, congenital diseases—meaning present at birth-- and childhood cancer. My training in residency and fellowship was heavily weighed to minimally invasive surgery. The benefits of minimally invasive surgery over traditional open surgery include improved pain control, shorter recovery time, fewer wound infections and often for bowel surgeries, shorter time before being able to eat after the surgery.

Q: What is unique about your approach? How has being a mother factored in?

I have a tendency to draw pictures to explain the anatomy, what is going on in the child’s body and what we will do during the surgery. It seems to help people conceptualize what’s happening and it doesn’t seem as scary when they have a good understanding of what is happening.

I’m very aware of calling people quickly with test results and to answer questions- I know how anxiety provoking it can be to wait for results so I try to share any knowledge that I have as soon as I get it. I’m open to hearing the family’s opinions of what they need. I am also very flexible in my scheduling. Often, I can see patients the same day that their pediatrician calls for an appointment.

Being a mother has made me a very empathetic surgeon. There is no way to articulate the love a parent has for their child and knowing that, I feel honored every time a family trusts me with the care of their child. I take that very seriously and feel that it helps me be supportive of the emotional needs of my patients and their families.

Q: You recently were the first recipient of the Landry Award for Neonatal Research at Massachusetts General Hospital. Tell us about your research.

The award was specified for research that will improve the lives of premature babies. I do research on lung development as part of the Surgical Research Laboratories at MGHfC. My specific interest and focus is in newborn and congenital lung diseases.

Alveoli are the small air sacs where you exchange gas in your lungs. Most premature babies have underdeveloped lungs with few alveoli. We don’t have a way to make the lung form normally or make the lung regenerate on its own and we cannot help patients make more alveoli. My focus is to understand how those alveoli form with the goal of finding therapeutics that we could give while the baby is a fetus or just after it is born to help its lungs mature and make more alveoli.

Q: What do you like most about your job?

The thing I like most about my job is the children. I love to meet them and help them. It always makes me so happy to see my patients feel better after surgery and want to go to our playroom, or to see them smile when they return to clinic. And to be quite honest, it makes me sad and worried when one of them doesn't feel well or is in pain. That is what motivates me to do research. Aside from enjoying the challenge of answering unanswered questions, I'd like to help the small babies with lung disease suffer less and have fewer long-term breathing problems.

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