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Pediatric Surgery During the COVID-19 Pandemic: What You Need to Know

Doctors wearing a mask in the operating roomLeft to right: pediatric anesthesiologist Jamie Schwartz with pediatric cardiac surgeon Bret Mettler and pediatric cardiologist Shelby Kutty

Has a doctor recommended surgery for your child? As a parent, you may have concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic and whether it is OK to proceed with your child’s procedure.

Johns Hopkins is a safe place for children to get the surgical treatment they need, during this critical time and always.

David J. Hackam, M.D., Ph.D., surgeon-in-chief at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, talks to parents about children’s surgery, including what to expect and how his team protects you and your child from infection during the coronavirus pandemic.

“We love taking care of our patients, and are prepared to keep them and their families safe from COVID-19,” Hackam says.

“At the Children’s Center, our surgeons and staff are ready to offer surgical treatment for children who are experiencing abdominal pain; mass, lump or lymph node swelling; hernias; problems with walking or seeing; or any problem that affects their health.”

Pediatric Surgery During the Coronavirus Pandemic: Questions and Answers

Can my child postpone surgery until the coronavirus pandemic is over?

It is not recommended. Children’s surgery is rarely elective.

“Your child’s surgeon recommends a procedure when it is necessary to prevent or treat an issue that affects your child’s health,” explains Hackam, “That’s why it’s important that your child undergoes the procedure when it is scheduled.”

He adds that delaying surgery in some cases can be dangerous. If your child has a worsening condition, postponing a procedure can make the issue harder to treat, which can affect the results of treatment.


“No matter what kind of health problem is bringing your child in for surgery, we are urging parents: Please don’t wait. We will meet you and your family wherever you are.” -Dr. David Hackam


What safety precautions are in place to protect my child and our family from COVID-19?

All of our locations have a range of precautions in place. “We have stepped up cleaning and disinfection and put a number of new policies in place to ensure our patients’ safety and that of their families,” says Hackam. Those safeguards include:

  • All patients are tested for COVID-19 before surgery.
  • During your child’s surgery, no observers or extra people are in the operating room — only those actually administering the anesthesia and performing the surgery.
  • We are ensuring our staff members are tested and furnished with all of the protective garments and equipment — including face masks and face shields — they need to prevent them catching or spreading the coronavirus.
  • Any child who is, or who might be, infected with the coronavirus is treated in a special, separate operating room with negative pressure to keep other areas safe.

If my child is scheduled for surgery, does he or she need a COVID-19 test?

Yes. “All patients need to have a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) COVID-19 test — the nasal swab type,” Hackam says. “A PCR coronavirus test for each patient helps ensure they get the care they need, while allowing us to protect other patients, families and hospital staff.”

Your child can get the test at any licensed facility as long as the test is performed and results are forwarded to the surgeon within three days of the scheduled procedure.

What if my child’s test is positive?

If your child is infected with the coronavirus, he or she can still have surgery. “We have an entire separate operating room to treat children with COVID-19,” Hackam says. “This treatment area is apart from our other operating rooms, and equipped with negative pressure to contain the virus.”

Can parents and guardians accompany children to the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center and stay with them if they are in the hospital overnight?

Yes! As part of our Ready, Set, Go initiative, Johns Hopkins Children’s Center allows one or two adult parents or guardians to stay with young patients being treated at our facilities. (If a child has COVID-19, only one parent or guardian may be present.)

Pediatric Surgery at Johns Hopkins: A Unique Environment for Healing

When you arrive at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, you enter a world designed with children’s wellness in mind. “Our unique distinction is our staff, who treat every child with kindness, warmth and patience,” Hackam says.

A child life specialist meets parents and patients in the preop area and helps kids get comfortable right away, whether they’re a curious 6-month-old baby or an apprehensive teen. Age-appropriate play areas, and even music and entertainment, provide distraction for kids who might be feeling uncomfortable, scared, hungry or cranky.

“In fact, some children enjoy the preop experience so much, they don’t want to leave,” Hackam says.

Anesthesiology specially tailored to children ensures that your child is comfortable and relaxed throughout every procedure. Child-specific administration of anesthesia increases the chances that young patients are breathing on their own sooner after surgery so you can hold and comfort your child as soon as possible.

A Range of Locations Closer to Your Home

“The eastern Baltimore center is just one place where our surgeons treat children,” Hackam explains. “Our doctors also travel to other facilities in the Baltimore area, and perform surgery in Towson; Green Spring Station; Anne Arundel County; York, Pennsylvania; and other locations.

“No matter what kind of health problem is bringing your child in for surgery, we are urging parents: Please don’t wait,” Hackam says. “We will meet you and your family wherever you are.”

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