Engineering and Congenital Heart Disease: Profile of CHD Surgeon Elizabeth Stephens
Coming from a family of science and math Ph.D’s, Elizabeth Stephens, M.D., Ph.D, didn’t initially aspire to becoming a doctor. However, during her sophomore year of college, that changed,
“As an undergrad I got hooked on research – I was a sophomore and doing some biomaterial coatings for Inertial Fusion Energy that were extremely successful. I was sent to national and international meetings to present and the research was named a national advance in the field for that year. But at the same time, I was volunteering in a cardiac care unit and I saw so many patients hurting and needing help, so I decided to look into biomedical research and ultimately entered an MD/Ph.D program.”
As she dove into medicine, specifically congenital heart disease, her interest continued to grow as she noted the engineering aspects of a human heart with congenital heart disease
“I love the physiology of congenital heart disease, there’s a lot of engineering in it, i.e. pressures/resistances, etc. It also is very creative - even patients with the same anomaly will have different anatomy so each case is unique."
After completing the MD/Ph.D program at Rice/Baylor, Dr. Stephens did a post-doctoral fellowship at Stanford in valve-sparing aortic root replacement and bicuspid aortic valve disease, before working in adult cardiothoracic surgery at Columbia in New York for six years, followed by 19 months in congenital heart disease at Northwestern/Lurie Children’s Hospital. She joined Mayo Clinic in December of 2019.
Dr. Stephens’ interest in valves dates back to graduate school, and much of her work and research is largely focused on valve disease and operations, such as valve-sparing aortic root replacement, the Ozaki procedure, and the Ross procedure to correct them.
The continual drive to improve patient care and outcomes is the ultimate goal of Dr. Stephens’ clinical and research work:
“One of the real strengths of Mayo, which is unique to this institution relative to other large centers across the country, is the ability to truly have multi-disciplinary patient centric care – and that’s a key benefit to having ACHD at a single hospital that includes pediatrics and adults. One of the ways I want to capitalize on this is doing more hybrid procedures as well as utilizing advanced imaging in our care of patients. Additionally, I’m bringing new technologies and techniques into the practice.”
This desire to continue to improve always returns to improving the lives of patients. And the opportunity to care for patients is Dr. Stephens’ favorite part of her work. She explained,
“It’s really a privilege to take care of congenital heart disease patients. Many of these patients have undergone previous surgeries and have had their life limited by their disease. Being able to help them, come alongside them, offer them hope and to understand where they are coming from which is foreign to many around them – that this is what we do everyday and we’re familiar with all that they’ve been through and their fears and questions. It’s incredibly rewarding and I’m thankful that I get to come to Mayo every day and do something that I love that directly impacts people.”