Get to Know Dr. Nuri, Surgical Director of the New Topolewski Pediatric Heart Valve Center

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Muhammad A.K. Nuri, MBBS, joins Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) as the Surgical Director of the new Topolewski Pediatric Heart Valve Center, recently designated a Frontier Program. Dr. Nuri comes to CHOP from Seattle Children’s Hospital, where he worked not only as a highly-esteemed cardiothoracic surgeon — specializing in complex congenital reconstructions, valve repair and unifocalization — but also served as Site Director for Congenital Cardiac Surgery at Mary Bridge Hospital in Tacoma, Wash. In addition to his surgical role at CHOP, Dr. Nuri will co-lead the Cardiac Center Quality Assurance initiatives.

Dr. Nuri recently sat down for an informal Q&A to talk about his new role at CHOP, his personal hero, and how he gives back to the country of his birth.

Q. What are you most looking forward to about your role as Surgical Director of the new Topolewski Pediatric Heart Valve Center?

A. CHOP is already doing much with valve surgery and valvular therapeutics. The Topolewski Pediatric Heart Valve Center brings all of this under one umbrella. With a dedicated valve center and the technology we have available, we’re able to provide even more individualized therapies. I’m excited to be a part of a team looking at cutting edge technology and the ways we can translate it into use.

In my secondary role as the surgical lead for quality assessment in congenital heart surgery, I’ll be focused on assessing quality and working with teams to implement improvements as needed. I’ve found this rewarding in the past. In my previous roles, I’ve focused on improving quality during the post-operative period, the rational use of blood in patients and improving outcomes and length of hospital stay in the Norwood and Glenn procedures. This will be one of my major roles in the Heart Valve Center. Any time you develop a new program, you have to continuously go back and evaluate what you’ve done so you can ensure you’re making progress.

Q. What do you like most about pediatrics and working with children?

A. Babies and children seem so fragile, and surgeries can be very disruptive to the body. But children are so resilient. They bounce back from surgery, and they thrive. You might see a child years later and not be able to tell that they even had surgery! Pediatrics also provides a breadth of surgical procedures, more so than working solely on adults. We’re able to make a bigger impact on children’s lives. This is what keeps me going.

Q. Describe a personal or professional breakthrough in your life.

A. One big breakthrough was establishing the Tahir Heart Institute with my father [an interventional cardiologist] in Pakistan. This is a surgical center in a rural/semi-urban part of the country. It was my first job out of training. When I got there, they didn’t even have an operating room. I was charged with getting everything constructed and tracking down materials. This allowed me to visit many medical centers throughout Pakistan and the United States in order to get ideas about what we wanted to create.

When we started the program, we began with adult cardiac surgery. At first, we didn’t have the resources to do pediatrics. But sometimes you have to start small. When you’re ready to put in the time and have good people to do the work, resources will come, and good things will happen. We slowly incorporated pediatrics over time, and within three years, we were doing more than 250 cases each year. All of the care is subsidized — patients pay a minimal fee, if anything.

Building a pediatric program in this area — and doing it well — was unheard of. The program has continued to grow over time. I go back twice a year for about two weeks, and usually perform 35-40 cases during that time, now all pediatric. I’ve been able to get cardiologists from the United States to go volunteer their time, too. This is my contribution to my country. Everyone wants to give back, but you don’t always get the opportunity. I’m blessed that I get the opportunity to contribute in that way.

Q. Do you have a role model?

A. My father is a cardiologist; he served in the military in Pakistan. He is retired from the military and now performs catheter-based interventions at Tahir Heart Institute. He’s almost 70 and still working. He does almost 1,000 cases each year. I definitely look at him as a role model.

Q. What are your hobbies?

A. I don’t play sports, but I enjoy watching sports, and I’m a sports statistics junkie! I start every morning by reviewing the scores and the updates, starting with the NFL and ending up with European soccer. I think it’s a holdover from the old days when you opened the newspaper and went straight to the sports page — right next to the comics. It’s just fun.

Q. If you weren’t a surgeon, what else might you be doing?

A. That’s easy — I’d be a chef or a food critic. I don’t like to cook, but I like to eat! I really look up to people that can make good food. And if I was a food critic, I could get into any restaurant and get served the best food no matter what. When my wife and I came for my interview at CHOP, one of the first things we did was check out the food scene in Philadelphia — we love Italian food, and there’s a lot of good Italian food in Philly!