Pediatric cardiologist comes with medical ethics expertise

Rapidly changing and improving technology to help children with congenital heart defects makes pediatric cardiology an exciting field for Sarah J. Wilkens, M.D., MPH.

Pediatric cardiologist Sarah J. Wilkens, M.D., MPH, has trained to care for the sickest children — heart failure and transplant patients.

“Ultimately what motivates me are the patients and trying to support their families in these difficult situations,” Dr. Wilkens said.

Equally important, she said, is seeing her patients as they grow up — then having a long-term relationship with them and with their families.

Using advanced technology such as mechanical support and ventricular assist devices (VADs) — that are now available for smaller children and those with single ventricle disease — has been rewarding.

Dr. Wilkens began at Norton Children’s Heart Institute, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine, as a heart failure and transplant specialist in 2019. She said she chose Norton Children’s because of the breadth of expertise and the heart institute’s growth. Dr. Wilkens also is able to apply her expertise in medical ethics, serving on the ethics committee at the children’s hospital.

“It seemed like a good fit,” she said. “I was very impressed with the way Norton Children’s was supportive of clinical and medical ethics and is also committed to establishing the Division of Pediatric Cardiology, and the specialty of pediatric heart failure and transplant specifically, as a center of quality and excellence in the region.”

Originally from Scottsdale, Arizona, outside of Phoenix, Dr. Wilkens attended the University of California, San Diego, where she studied world literature. When she started college, she was thinking about becoming a marine biologist or a color commentator at baseball games. She grew up going to Arizona Diamondbacks games with her dad. She started thinking about medicine as she took more and more science classes in college.

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Dr. Wilkens returned to Arizona and received her medical degree and master’s degree in public health from the University of Arizona in Tucson. She then completed her medical training in pediatrics and pediatric cardiology in Illinois at Northwestern University’s Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. At the same time, she completed a fellowship in medical ethics at the University of Chicago.

From there, Dr. Wilkens went to Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford in Palo Alto, California, first as a pediatric heart failure and transplant fellow and then as a postdoctoral research fellow. Dr. Wilkens worked on a number of research projects focusing on both ethics and on children receiving transplants and VADs.

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