Children's Hospital Colorado
Heart institute
Heart institute

The Heart Perfusionist Team: Caring for Kids During Heart Surgery

At Children’s Hospital Colorado, a team of specialized experts comes together for cardiovascular surgery, also known as heart surgery. This team involves surgeons, anesthesiologists, nurses and other health professionals who care for patients before, during and after surgery. However, there is one team member that you may not be familiar with - the heart perfusionist.

What does a heart perfusionist do?

Heart surgeons perform traditional open-heart surgery on still hearts. In order to still the heart, an external pump temporarily replaces the functions of the heart and lungs. The heart perfusionist is the person who operates the pump.

What is a heart-lung machine?

The external pump operated by the perfusionist is called a heart-lung machine. The heart-lung machine functions as the:

  • Heart to circulate blood
  • Lungs to remove carbon dioxide and supply blood with oxygen

Instead of blood flowing through the heart, a tube directs blood away from the heart and into the heart-lung machine. The machine removes carbon dioxide from the blood and saturates it with oxygen. Then it propels oxygenated blood back into the body.

How do heart perfusionists care for kids?

The perfusionist cares for the essential bodily functions of the patient during surgery. While the heart-lung machine pumps fresh oxygenated blood into the body, the perfusionist:

  • Monitors the patient’s blood flow
  • Supports optimal surgical conditions
  • Communicates with both the surgeon and anesthesiologist
  • Maintains the patient’s body temperature
  • Extends support of the patient's circulation after surgery

Specially trained and experienced pediatric perfusionists

Heart perfusionists at Children’s Colorado are internationally renowned leaders in heart perfusion. They have more than 65 years of collective experience dedicated to caring for kids. Our experts offer knowledge from leading-edge research and utilize state-of-the-art technology. The team is involved in approximately 350 open-heart cases per year.

The Children’s Colorado heart perfusionist team includes four pediatric experts. In addition to providing specialized care to patients, all of our perfusionists are:

Learn more about heart surgery at Children’s Colorado.

Q&A with the perfusionists at Children’s Hospital Colorado

Meet Scott Lawson, chief perfusionist

A headshot of heart chief perfusionist Scott Lawson who has short gray hair and is wearing a black polo.

Why did you decide to work with kids?

I discovered my passion for working with children when I worked in the neonatal nursery as a petty officer in the U.S. Navy. Now, as a pediatric perfusionist, I truly enjoy being a part of a team that helps kids with heart disease live better lives and gives parents hope for a better future. My involvement with research and education, along with my clinical expertise, allows for a greater impact on my patients’ lives.

 As part of the faculty at the University of Colorado, your team frequently publishes articles. What topics do you study?

I have co-authored over 60 peer-reviewed scientific articles, four of which have been book chapters on pediatric perfusion and Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO). I have also lectured in India, Ireland, Italy, Switzerland and extensively in the U.S.

Meet Cory Ellis

A headshot of heart perfusionist Cory Ellis who has light brown hair and a goatee and is wearing a gray polo.

Why did you decide to work with kids?

I decided to work with kids because of the way it makes me feel as a person. When I see the happiness and relief in the faces of parents, patients or other family members due to the efforts of the team I am a part of, the joy is contagious. Congenital heart disease can be challenging both physically and emotionally to the patients and their families, but seeing the kids and their families after surgery reminds me why I chose medicine in the first place.

As part of the faculty at the University of Colorado, your team frequently publishes articles. What topics do you study?

I have co-authored over 15 peer-reviewed scientific articles with a focus on Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO).

Meet Brian Mejak

A headshot of heart perfusionist Brian Mejak who has short dark brown hair and is wearing a black polo.

Why did you decide to work with kids?

I enjoy the challenges pediatric patients present. They require a lot of variability in perfusion techniques and equipment. It is a privilege to be part of an excellent team of surgeons, anesthesiologists, nurses, perfusionists and other clinicians dedicated to the care of our congenital heart patients at Children's Hospital Colorado.

As part of the faculty at the University of Colorado, your team frequently publishes articles. What topics do you study?

I have co-authored several peer-reviewed scientific articles; my special interests are in quality and safety initiatives.

Meet Craig McRobb

A headshot of heart perfusionist Craig McRobb who has short brown hair and is wearing a brown sweater.

Why did you decide to work with kids?

Being part of a team that helps improve the lives of children is extremely satisfying. It is an honor and privilege to work at Children’s Hospital Colorado and have the opportunity to positively impact the lives of the children and families we serve. Opportunities for pediatric research and education are also a major reason I enjoy working with kids.

As part of the faculty at the University of Colorado, your team frequently publishes articles. What topics do you study?

I have co-authored multiple peer-reviewed scientific articles. My interests are in ventricular assist devices, such as the Berlin Heart and the HeartWare LVAD.

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