We often share stories and features from patients and parents of children with CHD, but there is more to the CHD community. In this edition of our CHD Beat highlight series, we introduce you to Dr. Keila Lopez, a CHD physician in Texas, who shares how she got started in medicine, how she connects to patients with CHD and their families, and her vision for the future of CHD.
Conquering CHD: Tell us a little bit about your work, and what drew you to do it?
Dr. Lopez: I am the child of two Latino immigrants, neither of whom had the opportunity to go to school. They instilled in me a passion for education and to help others, and although there are no doctors in my family, I knew I wanted to be a doctor by the time I was six years old. After going to medical school and completing a residency in pediatrics, despite falling in love with cardiology, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I wanted to make an impact on larger groups of vulnerable populations. I was lucky enough to get a scholarship from the commonwealth fund to obtain a Masters of Public Health degree from Harvard School of Public Health in minority health policy where I learned all about health disparities, social determinants of health, and systemic inequities. After this training, I completed a fellowship in pediatric cardiology and was able to merge my two loves- pediatric cardiology and public health. Its very fulfilling work to impact not only a vulnerable chronic disease population but also to advocate on behalf of individuals suffering from health disparities due to worse social determinants of health.
Conquering CHD: How has your work connected you to patients and families impacted by CHD?
Dr. Lopez: I would say the work that has connected me most to patients and families is creating a transition medicine program to assist teenagers in their transition from pediatric to adult care. It has been very fulfilling to build programming – building on direct feedback from qualitative interviews with parents and teenagers about what they wanted to learn surrounding CHD, and how they wanted to learn it. I have also been able to connect with families working on advocacy projects and organizations, such as working with Conquering CHD!
Conquering CHD: How has your field changed since you first began?
Dr. Lopez: In the time since I started doing pediatric cardiology, I have noticed a significant shift toward focusing on research in quality improvement, public health, and health disparities. I feel that it’s a very encouraging direction that the field is moving in!
Conquering CHD: What direction would you like to see this field head in the next 5 years?
Dr. Lopez: I would like to see less work describing disparities in outcomes and more research on finding solutions and interventions to improve outcomes for all populations with CHD – from the prenatal to the adult period.
I would like to see increased federal funding and loan forgiveness to encourage more individuals to enter our most underserved field – adult congenital heart disease.
I would also like to see more funding for research in congenital heart disease work throughout the lifespan, as well as an increase in the diversification of the field – i.e more underrepresented minority physicians entering pediatric and adult congenital cardiology.
Conquering CHD: What advice would you give to new medical professionals who are considering this field of work?
Dr. Lopez: It’s a long road to complete medical school, residency, and fellowship, but it’s completely worth it. So many opportunities to make impacts to improve the lives of vulnerable populations. Pediatric cardiology is the coolest field in the world with the best patients!
Conquering CHD: What words of encouragement would you like to give to patients and families impacted by CHD?
Dr. Lopez: The number of advances that have happened in pediatric cardiology over the last 30 years have been a complete game changer in terms of mortality.
This is exciting because as a field we are moving toward taking a holistic approach to patient care – and that is very exciting!
Conquering CHD: Any new and exciting research or upcoming news you’d like to share?
Dr. Lopez: Yes! Soon there will be 2 important scientific statements (recommendations) published: one for best practices in transition medicine in CHD as well as one addressing social determinants of health and health disparities in CHD. They both have lots of great information!
Conquering CHD: Tell us about your work with Conquering CHD.
Dr. Lopez: I have been able to partner with Conquering CHD members to work on various events: transition events, panels discussing health disparities, and health policy and advocacy initiatives to improve CHD care. I’ve also had the pleasure of being on webinars together and writing manuscripts with members from Conquering CHD – it’s been really a great experience to work with this organization!
Thank you to Dr. Lopez for sharing your insights and for your continued collaboration and support of our mission to conquer the most common birth defect!
*Some responses have been edited for typos or for clarity.
Read Dr. Lopez’s most recent scientific statements here:
Dr. Keila Lopez, MD, MPH, is an Associate Professor of Pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine and the Director of Transition Medicine at Texas Children’s Hospital Heart Center Her current research focuses on incorporating public health into congenital cardiology, to improve the care of minorities and underserved populations. Dr. Lopez speaks Spanish, Portuguese and English and is also working on educational programs for low-literacy/low-English proficiency families of children with congenital heart disease.
About CHD Beat – The congenital heart disease community is rich and varied, with members representing all walks of life and aspects of CHD, including patients, parents, family and friends, care team members, policymakers, and so many more. Conquering CHD is fortunate to have engagement from ALL levels within our organization. Our CHD Beat program is a social media series highlighting some of our most dedicated collaborators so our community can see all sides of our incredible community. We seek to celebrate those who offer collaboration, hope, and dedication to the CHD community and our organization.