With the arrival of James Nielsen, MD, in 2012 as Chief of Pediatric Cardiology, Stony Brook Children’s Hospital took on a new role in the community: a leader in non-invasive cardiac imaging, from fetal echocardiography to screenings for high school athletes. This not only filled in a much-needed gap in Suffolk County, but it also brought an extraordinarily high level of expertise to the area.
Dr. Nielsen is an internationally recognized specialist in the advanced non-invasive imaging techniques in congenital heart disease evaluation. His interest in pediatric medicine and specifically pediatric cardiology began while he was a student at Tulane Medical School. As his advanced training continued, he gravitated to the specialized techniques of fetal echocardiography and cardiac MRI.
“Helping children and families by offering expert pediatric cardiology imaging is a true privilege,” he said. “It allows me to use my expertise from years of training matched with the very real, day-to-day, human side of medicine.
“It is very rewarding to be able to use your fine-tuned knowledge and expertise with modern technology to accurately diagnose cardiac problems and help patients and families — particularly in the area of fetal echocardiography, where families are frequently anxious about possible heart conditions in their loved ones,” he said. This includes high-risk pregnancies, twins and triplets, as well as newborns with congenital heart disease.
Long interested in applications of the latest technology, Dr. Nielsen pursued and completed a senior pediatric cardiology fellowship in cardiac MRI at Boston Children’s Hospital and subsequently went on to build a successful clinical and training program in cardiac MR in New York. He has trained pediatric cardiology fellows in advanced imaging who now work at top institutions around the world.
At Stony Brook Children’s, Dr. Nielsen sees patients at the state-of-the-art echocardiography lab, which opened in conjunction with his hiring. He and his team can consult, follow-up and manage pediatric and congenital cardiovascular disease; evaluate murmurs, chest pain, syncope, palpitations, obesity, hypertension and arrhythmia; perform fetal echocardiograms for congenital and acquired fetal heart disease; and screen to clear athletes and camp attendees for sports participation.
Very little of this would have been able to be performed non-invasively in the not-so-distant past. So, like other colleagues in his field, Dr. Nielsen continues to look to the future.
“In the past 15 to 20 years, advances in imaging have transformed the way we practice pediatric cardiology,” he said. “As the technology evolves, it will only get safer for children — less invasive, little-to-no radiation and no need for anesthesia. Also on the horizon is the ability to make 3-D models of the heart for surgical planning.
“All this will ultimately help kids with complex heart disease.”