LCH pediatric GI program

Child Health | 6 years ago

One of the Best Pediatric GI Programs, Created from Scratch

A decade ago, children with serious GI or liver problems had to leave the Charlotte area to get expert care. Today, they can find one of the best GI programs in the country at Levine Children’s Hospital.
Following their daughter Taylor’s liver transplant in 2016, Amanda and Greg Parks drove three hours each way from their home outside Asheville, NC, to receive ongoing care from Levine Children’s Hospital.

Ten years ago, they would have had to travel a lot farther.

Before LCH started its liver transplant program in 2007, many patients in eastern North Carolina drove across the state – or flew across the country – to receive a transplant. Back then, there were only a few pediatric GI doctors in all of Charlotte.

Today, as LCH celebrates its 10th anniversary, the GI and hepatology (or liver) division at the hospital has eight dedicated physicians – the largest GI team in the state. In addition, the liver transplant team is one of the most experienced in the Carolinas.

“We can handle virtually any kind of GI diagnosis right here in Charlotte,” says Vani Gopalareddy, MD, pediatric gastroenterology and hepatology specialist at LCH. “We have a lot to be proud of.”

Dr. Gopalareddy performed Taylor Parks’s transplant, as well as all eight transplants during the program’s first year almost a decade ago. Those original eight patients are all doing great today, says Dr. Gopalareddy.

Liver transplant is just one of the many specialties of the division, which has been named a U.S. News & World Report Best Children’s Hospital for gastroenterology and GI surgery.

For example, the division is the only one in the Carolinas to perform motility studies for children whose digestive systems have lost muscle coordination. And the nutritional support program is among a handful of hospitals nationwide that can place advanced feeding tubes for newborns and young adults. Last year, the GI program had more than 10,000 outpatient visits. 

A Special Level of Support

Soon after Taylor was born, doctors discovered she had a rare liver disorder. But it wasn’t until she turned 2 years old that she needed a transplant. During those intervening years – and the time since – she’s received a level of attention not found at other hospitals, says Amanda.

“It feels more like she’s being treated as an extended family member than as a patient,” says Amanda. “The nurses just fell in love with her.”

From playing with toys provided by the hospital’s child life specialists to getting the right foods from the nutritionists, Taylor has benefited from a tight-knit transplant team. She’s also been fortunate to be under Dr. Gopalareddy’s care.

“Dr. Gopalareddy is so focused on her patients,” says Mary Alice Boulware, pediatric hepatology and liver transplant nurse practitioner. “Her patients know it and they feel it, and that’s why they have such an amazing bond with her.”

Dr. Gopalareddy, who was actually the first full-time member of the GI division, is quick to point out that patients’ successful outcomes are the product of a total team, which will grow to 10 physicians in 2018.

“You don’t see many GI departments anywhere go from zero to 10 providers in only 10 years,” says Dr. Gopalareddy.

For Taylor’s family, this growth has been a blessing. In fact, Taylor has an identical twin sister who has no liver problems. Now more than a year after Taylor’s surgery, it’s almost impossible to tell which of the two healthy girls had the transplant.