August 23, 1999
John Ira Petty
Johnson Space Center, Houston
Texas Children's Hospital, Houston
When the Heart Center at Texas Children's Hospital in Houston wanted to design the best echocardiogram reading room on Earth, it formed a partnership with an organization whose projects are frequently out of this world - NASA.
An echocardiogram is a non-invasive test that uses ultrasound to examine the structure and functioning of the heart for abnormalities and disease. Last year Texas Children's read 10,000 echoes, some coming from various departments of the hospital and some from other hospitals in the region. Often called "mission control" by its staff, the Texas Children's Heart Center reading room is quiet, dark and intense. Its walls are lined with television monitors - just like NASA's mission control - but instead of flight paths, the images on the screens are children's beating hearts.
As Texas Children's Hospital enters the next millennium, new advancements, including fiber optics, will have a major influence on the echo reading process. Aware of the rapidly changing technology, architects designing Texas Children's current 1.2 million square foot expansion asked the Heart Center staff to name existing facilities they believed were on the cutting-edge of technology.
"High on our list was NASA mission control," said Dr. J. Timothy Bricker, chief of cardiology at Texas Children's Hospital. "We have to respond to a lot of information quickly, with no technical errors, just like they do." The chemistry between NASA and Texas Children's was immediate and productive.
"When you put creative, intelligent people together, sparks just fly," he said. "We enjoyed getting their input, and you could see them tucking away things we do that might be of benefit to NASA. Their input was valuable as we looked at designing the lab of the future."
"We are pleased to have participated in the design of the new Echocardiography Lab at Texas Children's Hospital," said George W.S. Abbey, director of Johnson Space Center. "One of NASA's jobs is to make space technology available to improve life on Earth. We are delighted to see this technology being used at Texas Children's to help young patients get well."
The partnership also brought positive responses from the staff of Texas Children's Heart Center. "Our staff is excited, enthusiastic and confident that we have planned well for Texas Children's function to take care of kids now and into the next century and to provide service to the hospital and region, and even worldwide," Bricker said.
Bricker also sees similarities between the work of his department and NASA. "Like NASA, pediatric cardiology doesn't have a second chance. We both have to do things right the first time," he said.
The result of the alliance, said Mary Beth Mauer, a director at the Texas Children's Heart Center, is a cutting-edge facility that allows for integrated training and operation, expandability, operating cost reduction and better patient diagnosis and care. One of the main innovations is the new mission control desk, which is based on its counterpart in NASA's emergency preparedness center.
"NASA helped with flow of information and suggested technologies to help data travel from patient to doctor," Mauer said. Aspiring astronauts will appreciate another result of the collaboration with NASA. The Texas Children's Heart Center plans to stock the new clinic's waiting rooms with space-related toys.
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