It was a summer morning not long ago that a Dr. Audrey Marshall got a page-- her young patient in the ICU wasn’t doing well.
She had skillfully performed a series of cardiac catheterizations on the child throughout his dozen years of life to manage a life-threatening heart problem. Despite these procedures, the boy’s condition had progressed to heart failure. Arriving on the child’s floor in response to the page, she recognized the boy’s father, who quickly approached her, informing her that his child was acutely worsening.
“He was distressed, but immediately reached out and thanked me for the 12 amazing years he had with his son. He said, ‘we never would have had him for that time without your help,’” recalled Dr. Marshall. “Moments like that are what make this very challenging field one that also provides very unique rewards. I get to use advancements in medicine to do procedures that not many people in the world know how to do. And I get to really know some of my young patients and their families, follow them over the course of a lifetime, and become quite close to them. As we go through ups and downs together, they become like family.”
Dr. Marshall has been focused on the hearts of youngsters for 20 years, a passion she has brought with her as the new Chief of Pediatric Cardiology at Floating Hospital for Children, part of Tufts Medical Center. A premiere interventional cardiologist, her expertise is threading a flexible tube called a catheter through arteries and into the heart to diagnose and treat disease. Some children will have just one of these procedures, most likely to treat a congenital heart defect, during their lifetime. Others, with more involved disease, may return for multiple procedures.
In addition to performing the procedures, Dr. Marshall helps to manage many of the more affected children in between catheterization procedures, whether they are in the hospital around the time of an operation, or they are planning to come in from home for a visit. These longer-term relationships provide opportunities to get to know a family and better care for the child.
“A lot of the very first babies I saw in my career are young adults going to college now, getting their drivers’ licenses,” said Dr. Marshall. “Building these long term relationships makes this incredibly gratifying work.”
Dr. Marshall studied at Yale University and the University of Pennsylvania. Much of her career was spent at Boston Children’s Hospital where, as Chief of the Division of Invasive Cardiology, she became a recognized, international expert in interventional procedures that diagnose and treat pediatric heart disease. Through her research, she helped to develop new devices that replace valves in children with rare congenital disorders and pioneered techniques that allow for the correction or heart defects while tiny babies are still in the mother’s womb.
Dr. Marshall’s interest in medicine was, perhaps, predictable. Her father was a surgeon and her mother, an anesthesiologist. The two worked together at a small community hospital for 35 years.
“I have three siblings and I guess at least one of us was bound to choose a career in medicine,” she joked. “My parents were inspiring – the way they worked as a team and really cared for their patients, together.”
Dr. Marshall’s new teammate at Tufts Medical Center is Dennis Mello, MD, Chief of Pediatric Cardiac Surgery. They will corral their combined energy and experience to lead the pediatric cardiology program into the future.
“Dennis is an incredibly talented, and a nationally-recognized cardiac surgeon. Beyond that, he’s thoughtful, warm, and just a great person,” she said. “We’ll be working hand-in-hand to grow the program but most importantly, to make sure each of our patients receive the very best care.”
And to make sure they are treated as we would want our own family members treated, she says. It’s about delivering the kind of care that is engrained in the culture of Tufts Medical Center.
“Everyone I’ve met here is working together, focusing on the patient, and building relationships,” she said. “It feels like a real community.”