As a pediatric anesthesiologist at the Blalock-Taussig- Thomas Pediatric and Congenital Heart Center at Johns Hopkins, Natalia Diaz-Rodriguez has a short window of time in which to meet her patients before they undergo surgery. Understandably, children are often scared, and their parents anxious.
Diaz-Rodriguez tries to ease the tension with a little bit of levity. “We had a child coming for a big surgery last week,” she says. “He was a bit hesitant to let me get close to him at first, but with the help of our Child Life specialist, we made his experience fun. She brought him a bubble blower and after playing with bubbles for a few minutes, he let me carry him to the OR, all the while laughing and smiling.”
Diaz-Rodriguez received her MD from the University of Pennsylvania. In 2012, she began her residency at Johns Hopkins — which is, coincidentally, where she was born. (Her father was doing his pediatric residency at the University of Maryland at the time.) The family then moved back to Puerto Rico, where Diaz-Rodriguez grew up. After a number of years working in finance in the United States, she decided to follow in her father’s footsteps and pursue pediatrics. Diaz-Rodriguez had originally considered specializing in critical care medicine, but was ultimately drawn to pediatric anesthesiology.
“It was a combination of the procedures, the physiology, and being able to take care of children in the operating room,” she says.
Diaz-Rodriguez feels privileged to be part of the recently opened Pediatric and Congenital Heart Center. Going forward, she plans to combine a clinical career with an academic career, focusing on pulmonary hypertension research.
Diaz-Rodriguez acknowledges that it can be hard to see children who are very sick with congenital heart problems that may require cardiac bypass surgery or open-heart surgery. But just as she eases the fears of her young patients, she credits them with inspiring her.
“Children are very receptive to listening and understanding that the procedure is something that they need and that we're going to try to make it as best as we can for them, so you can push forward knowing that you're doing what's right for them,” she says. “At the same time, they're loving and they're funny and they make you laugh. They’re perfect. That’s why I chose to work with children, and I wouldn't change it for the world.”