Erle H. Austin III, M.D., reflects on Norton Children’s Heart Institute growth

With the opening of the Jennifer Lawrence Cardiac Intensive Care Unit (CICU), Dr. Austin looks ahead to caring for more patients with congenital and acquired heart conditions.

The newly opened Jennifer Lawrence Cardiac Intensive Care Unit (CICU) at Norton Children’s Hospital was made possible by gifts to the Norton Children’s Hospital Foundation and is specifically for cardiac patients.

It provides an opportunity to reflect on how far heart care at Norton Children’s Hospital has come.

Kentucky’s first pediatric open heart surgery was performed at Norton Children’s Hospital, and in 1986, the hospital was the second site in the country to complete a successful infant heart transplant.

Erle H. Austin III, M.D., cardiothoracic surgeon with Norton Children’s Heart Institute, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine, has witnessed the tremendous growth of heart care at Norton Children’s Hospital throughout his decades-long tenure.

“I came in 1989 when it was a much smaller program. I was the single surgeon to be able to provide surgery to a child with heart conditions. At that time there were only five cardiologists,” Dr. Austin said.

Today, that number has grown to 20 pediatric cardiologists and three cardiac surgeons, including Dr. Austin, Deborah J. Kozik, D.O., and the team’s latest addition — Bahaaldin Alsoufi, M.D.

“Our program with Dr. Alsoufi, Dr. Kozik and me has a great future,” Dr. Austin said. “The three of us combined have more than 50 years of experience in delivering heart surgical care.”

More than 120 staff members now make up the team at Norton Children’s Heart Institute. In addition to their medical expertise, they strive each day to deliver the most compassionate care. The institute’s specialists perform more than 17,000 procedures each year for patients of all ages, including children with acquired heart conditions and those with congenital heart disease from infancy into adulthood.

Using fetal echocardiology, they begin following the tiniest of patients from before birth and continue throughout their lives.

The Jennifer Lawrence CICU is a state-of-the-art space that allows the Norton Children’s Heart Institute team to provide high-level, compassionate care to children and adults with congenital heart conditions. The 17-bed unit helps fulfill a need for the increasing number of congenital heart disease survivors who require specialized heart services.

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The CICU is staffed by specialists with cardiac critical care training and experience, dedicated nursing staff and other professionals focused solely on heart care. It features private rooms dedicated to children recovering from heart procedures, including open heart surgery, heart transplant, heart failure and other conditions requiring intensive care.

It also offers family accommodations so families can stay with their children. Research has shown that units such as this improve children’s recovery.

“It’s so great to be able to witness the tremendous growth of this lifesaving program over the years,” Dr. Austin said. “A lot of families’ lives have been positively impacted through the work done within this hospital, and I cannot wait to see where the future takes us. It’s looking bright.”