An Extraordinary Opportunity

Published on in Children's View

It was her interest in the Center for Fetal Diagnosis and Treatment that first brought Emily Partridge, MD, PhD, MHS, from Toronto to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia in 2011. A postdoctoral research fellow with a passion for fetal surgery and ambitious research goals, Dr. Partridge was thrilled by the opportunity to work in a lab with the clinical infrastructure needed to propel her groundbreaking ideas forward.

Dr. Partridge spent three years training under Alan Flake, MD, who holds the Ruth M. and Tristram C. Colket, Jr. Endowed Chair in Pediatric Surgery and is a fetal surgeon and researcher who has been at the forefront of cutting-edge studies aimed at treating genetic disorders before birth. Dr. Partridge then returned to Canada to complete her general surgery residency. In 2017, she returned to CHOP for a two-year pediatric surgical fellowship during which she worked and trained with a breadth of world-class pediatric surgeons, including N. Scott Adzick, MD, CHOP’s Surgeon-in-Chief, the C. Everett Koop Endowed Chair in Pediatric Surgery, and the founder and Director of the Center for Fetal Diagnosis and Treatment.

During this time, Dr. Partridge was especially moved by babies born with a congenital diaphragmatic hernia (CDH) — a condition that occurs when the diaphragm fails to close during prenatal development, allowing abdominal organs to move into the chest, where they inhibit lung growth. “These babies are warriors. I remember the names of each one I’ve cared for and the names of their families,” she says, noting that CHOP follows CDH patients throughout childhood and adolescence. “It’s an extraordinary opportunity to be part of their care.”

Now an attending pediatric surgeon with the Division of Pediatric General, Thoracic and Fetal Surgery — a position she accepted in 2019 — Dr. Partridge splits her time between clinical work and basic science. In addition to co-leading CDH research, she has a broad research profile — including her work on an astonishing womb-like device that could potentially give extremely premature babies a precious few weeks to develop their lungs and other organs. Much of this work — especially early-stage research — would not be possible without support from donors.

From the lab to the operating room, Dr. Partridge exemplifies the talent, ambition and expertise of a CHOP-trained physician, both in her own work and in training the next generation of pediatric leaders. This passing-on of knowledge by the best minds in pediatric medicine has been made even more robust by the campaign For Tomorrow’s Breakthroughs, further helping CHOP attract and inspire the most talented clinicians. 

Unraveling the ‘clinically mysterious’

With a full-time PhD student and an army of fellows and technicians now training in her busy lab, Dr. Partridge aims to instill in all her trainees that same sense of wonder she feels. “From a research perspective, CDH babies are, in many ways, clinically mysterious,” says Dr. Partridge. “The nuances of their surgical and medical care are complicated and can be hard for fellows to figure out. But doing so is a critical part of any pediatric surgical education.” Dr. Partridge’s passion for fetal surgery has only grown over the course of her time at CHOP. “It’s such an extraordinary privilege to be trusted with the care of someone’s child,” she says. “Fetal surgery amplifies that even further. You’re taking on the care of the mother and her fetus — you have two lives in your hands. The opportunity to intervene and improve the outcome for that unborn child is nothing short of awe-inspiring.”