Q&A with Dr. Matthew O’Connor

Published on in CHOP News

Matthew O'Connor Meet Matthew O’Connor, MD, Medical Director of the Heart Failure and Transplant Program at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP).

As a board-certified attending cardiologist, Dr. O'Connor sees firsthand the effect heart failure has on patients and their families. “The impact is significant,” he says, “and so too is the potential to make lasting improvements on our patients’ quality of life.”

Q. What is your background?

A. I grew up in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and attended college at The College of William and Mary in Virginia. I then earned my medical degree from the University of Virginia, where I also completed my pediatrics residency training. I then came to CHOP in 2007 for my pediatric cardiology fellowship training. My clinical practice focuses on the care of children with heart failure and cardiomyopathies, including those who have ventricular assist devices or have undergone heart transplantation. In addition, I read echocardiograms and see patients in the general cardiology clinic, both at CHOP’s Philadelphia Campus and the Care Network location in Lancaster.

Q. What brought you to CHOP?

A. I came to CHOP for several reasons. First, it is near my family and gives me the opportunity to practice in the region where I grew up. But I was also attracted to CHOP because of its world-class pediatric cardiac care. Every day, I am surrounded by dedicated colleagues who are leaders in the field and who are making advances in the care of children with congenital heart disease, cardiomyopathies and heart failure. It is a privilege to work among such a talented team.

Q. What’s unique about CHOP’s Heart Failure and Transplant Program and the value added by the new Advanced Cardiac Therapies for Heart Failure (ACT-HF) Frontier Program?

A. Within the Heart Failure and Transplant Program, we work very hard to provide individualized care for each patient and their family. Our team has been focused for quite some time on the importance of exercise and rehabilitation in patients with heart failure, and we are fortunate to have an exercise laboratory that helps us study how physical activity can benefit patients with heart failure. We are very aggressive in the utilization of ventricular assist devices (VADs) for children with heart failure; VADs stabilize patients with heart failure who are awaiting transplantation, and in some patients, VADs may allow for recovery of ventricular function such that transplant is no longer needed. The new ACT-HF Frontier Program is designed to increase the utilization of VADs in children, provide care for them in a centralized location for critical care, and study new therapies for heart failure in patients with congenital heart disease.

Q. What breakthroughs or developments are you excited about?

A. When I started my fellowship training in 2007, placing a VAD in a child was a very novel concept, and patients were often gravely ill at the time of deciding to place the VAD. We are now routinely placing VADs in the highest-risk patients: small infants with complex congenital heart disease. The technology is constantly evolving and improving, and to have seen this happen in a relatively short period of time is very exciting.

Q. Where do you see the future of the field?

A. While heart transplantation will continue to be an important aspect of the care of children with heart failure for many years to come, with the ongoing improvement in VADs, we will likely come to a point where having a VAD long-term is actually better than having a transplant — not just from the standpoint of survival but also from a quality-of-life perspective. Whatever happens, we are continually getting better at treating children with heart failure, and that is an exciting process to be a part of.