Family Health: Immediate care improves surgical outcomes for Missoula children

Few life events are more frightening than having a child who needs surgery. In rural states like Montana, that situation can become even more stressful when the child needs to be transported to a distant regional center for the operation.

Parents here can take that additional worry off their plate. In June, Montana’s only pediatric surgeon began practicing at Community Medical Center in Missoula. Dr. Daniel Beals has 25 years of experience in busy metropolitan-area hospitals, and his expertise has already enabled a number of kids and their families to stay here for their surgeries.

Pediatric surgeons care for children from birth through their teenage years. Their training includes five years in a general surgery residency and an additional two-year pediatric surgery fellowship. Beals went beyond these requirements with two pediatric fellowships, and he also trained in pediatric critical care and ECMO, a technology that temporarily takes over the function of the lungs and sometimes the heart in very sick children.

Having a highly qualified pediatric surgeon in Montana changes the picture for everyone touched by surgical problems in kids. For example:

  • Babies born with congenital defects can get necessary surgery quickly, without traveling out of state. Such immediate care can improve the surgical outcomes, and staying in place keeps mother and child together, which is critical with newborns.
  • Children of all ages can have common or rare surgical conditions treated close to home. Unlike other specialty surgeons, who focus on specific organ systems or body areas, pediatric surgeons are expert in a full range of procedures on young bodies.
  • Surgeons in other Montana cities can consult with Beals for advice on whether a young patient can remain in their home area for treatment.
  • Babies at risk for serious problems can be monitored at Community Medical Center until they are out of danger. In the past, they were transferred to a regional center to be safe.
  • Consultations and procedures are scheduled so that children and their families who travel to Missoula for surgery can often go home the next day.
  • Sick children and teenagers are treated by a surgeon with special skills in putting them and their families at ease.
  • Pregnant women whose babies may need surgery as soon as they are born can stay in Missoula for their delivery. Between Beals and perinatologist Bardett Fausett, MD, nearly any abnormality in a pregnancy or newborn can be treated.

Some children do need to be treated at another facility. For example, kids with serious injuries go to the Level II trauma center at St. Patrick Hospital. Beals can consult with surgeons there about operating on small bodies, which require exacting technique.

Organ transplantation is performed at regional centers such as Seattle Children’s Hospital. Beals is connecting with departments there to synchronize evaluation and procedure methods with those at Community Medical Center. That will streamline the process for kids who are transferred for treatment.

Beals also looks forward to collaborating with other Neonatal Intensive Care Units (NICUs) in Montana to keep families from having to travel out of state for surgery. With their Level III NICU and pediatric surgeon, Community Medical Center provides care closer to home. In fact, they are close to their goal of providing the same level of care as a regional children’s hospital.

To learn more about pediatric surgery, visit the American Pediatric Surgical Association at www.eapsa.org.