Cardiothoracic Intensive Care Unit (CTICU)

The Thomas and Dorothy Leavey Foundation Cardiothoracic Intensive Care Unit (CTICU) was the first pediatric unit of its kind on the West Coast, and is the largest unit for pediatric cardiac critical care in Southern California. Our experience enables us to care for children with all types of heart problems, including those with rare and complex conditions.

We care for approximately 900 children in our 24-bed unit each year. Intensive care may sound scary, but this unit is the best place for very sick children. Intensive care means your child gets extra monitoring and access to advanced life support technology if needed. The additional monitoring helps us quickly identify changes in your child’s condition, so we can adjust treatment as needed. The CTICU also cares for children immediately after surgery.


CTICU: Why Choose Us

U.S. News & World Report consistently ranks Children's Hospital Los Angeles among the top children’s cardiology and heart surgery programs in the country. Our excellent CTICU contributes to the Heart Institute’s success. The CTICU offers:

  • Award-winning, high-quality care: Our CTICU has a top-level designation from the Beacon Award for Excellence. This designation, from the American Association of Critical Care Nurses, recognizes hospital units that use evidence-based practices to improve patient outcomes.
  • Advanced technology: We use the Etiometry early warning system to detect subtle changes in your child’s heartbeat, blood pressure and oxygen levels. This system includes advanced analytics to predict potential complications. CTICU staff members are also experts in leading-edge technologies such as inhaled nitric oxide and ventricular assist devices (VADs). Inhaled nitric oxide can treat breathing problems and VADs help support the heart.
  • Advanced infection control: The CTICU has positive-pressure ventilation and HEPA-filtered private rooms designed for transplant patients. These advanced isolation features reduce infection risk. Infection control is particularly important for children who receive transplants because they require medications that can weaken the immune system. The CTICU also has a dedicated infection prevention specialist.


Family-Centered Care

  • Large private rooms: About 90% of patient rooms in the CTICU are private — with room for you stay with your child overnight if you choose.
  • Child-Parent Therapy: We provide a therapy program to support parent-child bonding. This program helps parents bond with their infants who have serious heart conditions and may need to stay in the CTICU for a while.
  • Family participation in rounds: We encourage families to attend patient rounds, the daily updates our multidisciplinary team provides at your child’s bedside.


Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO)

ECMO is one of the most important lifesaving technologies we have in the CTICU. It is a machine that can support your child’s lungs and heart. It gives doctors time to find the right treatments and very sick children time to heal.

We are one of just a few hundred hospitals around the country offering ECMO. And the Extracorporeal Life Support Organization (ELSO) recognizes us as a Gold-Level Center of Excellence for ECMO.

On-site ECMO team

ECMO is a “last resort” treatment for life-threatening situations. Children on ECMO need constant monitoring from ECMO specialists who know how to manage the machine’s settings.

While it’s common for hospitals to share a team of ECMO specialists among several facilities, we have an on-site ECMO team. This setup saves time when every second matters.

Our team specializes in using ECMO for infants and children of all ages. It includes:

  • Cardiac Intensivists, who coordinate the team and manage your child’s treatment plan.
  • Cardiac critical care nurses, who provide comprehensive care while your child is in the CTICU
  • Cardiologists to monitor heart function
  • Cardiothoracic surgeons, who place your child on the ECMO machine
  • ECMO specialists, one of whom always stays with your child to monitor vital signs and manage the ECMO machine (this person may be a nurse, perfusionist or respiratory therapist)
  • Neuro-radiologists, who take MRIs of the brain to watch for any side effects
  • Perfusionists, who specialize in managing heart-lung bypass machines
  • Respiratory therapists to monitor your child’s breathing

Learn more about extracorporeal membrane oxygenation and our neonatal Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) Program.


Cardiothoracic Intensive Care Team

Our CTICU team includes experts in pediatric cardiology, cardiothoracic surgery, and anesthesiology and critical care. These clinicians have specialized training in the care of critically ill children with all types of heart conditions.

Our dedicated CTICU team includes:

  • Intensivists (doctors who specialize in intensive care)
  • Nurse practitioners (NPs)
  • Registered nurses (RNs)
  • Respiratory care practitioners (RCPs)

The CTICU team also works with other departments to ensure your child receives personalized, well-rounded care. Specialists who support the CTICU include:

  • Cardiac anesthesiologists
  • Cardiologists
  • Cardiothoracic surgeons
  • Child Life specialists
  • Dietitians
  • Pharmacists
  • Social workers


Heart Conditions We Treat in the CTICU


Cardiac Critical Care at CHLA

Learn more about how cardiac critical care medicine can support your child.