Doctor or professional tennis player– that’s the decision Dr. Laurentiu Givelichian had to make at the young age of 15.
“At that time, I was one of the junior tennis champions in Romania,” he says of the country where he was born and raised. “A decision had to be made. Going into full-time training to become a professional tennis player wouldn’t stop me from going to school, but it also wouldn’t allow me to continue pursuing my dream of going into medicine.”
Dr. Laurentiu Givelichian
Today, Dr. Givelichian is the unified head of pediatrics for Saskatoon Health Region and the University of Saskatchewan (U of S); he is co-lead on the Region’s Children’s Hospital of Saskatchewan priority; he is also a pediatrician, neonatologist (pediatrician trained to handle the most complex and high-risk situations in newborn infants) and an intensivist (a physician who provides special care to critically ill patients) on the neonatal and pediatric intensive care units at Royal University Hospital, an associate professor and researcher with the U of S and an honourary member of the Children’s Hospital Foundation of Saskatchewan Board of Directors.
Even as a young man, the aspiring doctor realized his passion was to treat people and to make a lasting difference in medicine – and that’s exactly what he’s doing.
Creating new standards in pediatric care
Dr. Givelichian’s pioneering spirit has given him a lot to be proud of in his 21-year career, beginning with his passion for innovative research.
In 1999, he helped break ground in using hypothermia as a treatment method for brain disease, damage and malfunction in infants and children by agreeing to participate in a pilot study designed to look at the safety of maintaining a lower-than-normal body temperature in babies who experience a lack of oxygen during delivery.
“If we maintain the body temperature lower than normal, for 72 hours, then we’re able to create an environment where the baby’s brain is able to rest for a couple of days without needing too much oxygen, therefore diminishing the side effects or complications from the initial trauma,” Dr. Givelichian says, explaining that cerebral palsy is one of the complications that can arise from a traumatic birth.
“There are many examples of babies who received the treatment and performed so well that after the age of two, you could not see any difference between them and any other baby,” Dr. Givelichian says, recalling one infant in particular who was born with no heart rate at birth and had to be resuscitated. Once revived, the baby’s blood work showed a tremendous lack of oxygen to the body, so Dr. Givelichian maintained his body temperature at hypothermic levels for three days.
Dr. Givelichian has stayed in touch with the family over the years, and happily says that the baby, now 12 years old, has developed into a healthy young adult with no neurological deficiencies.
“This is my passion,” he says enthusiastically of his interest in hypothermia as a treatment method for brain injury. “The brain is a relatively unknown organ, and until hypothermia, we did not have good management or treatment of the brain. Hypothermia is one form of treatment that makes a difference.
“I’m very proud to tell you that today this method of treatment is now the standard of care throughout the entire world,” he continues, adding that it is now being used in children and adults, in addition to infants, to diminish or completely eliminate complications from brain injuries.
Provincializing care for Saskatchewan’s sickest kids
“In the last few years, I really believe this department has been tremendously successful in improving the outcome of children here in Saskatchewan,” says Dr. Givelichian of the Region’s department of pediatrics – the only department in the Region that has no duplication of sub-specialties anywhere in the province.
Having all of the sub-specialties in pediatrics housed at Royal University Hospital means that all children from across the province receive the same standard of care, whether they are from a city like Saskatoon, a rural area or a northern community.
Under Dr. Givelichian’s leadership, the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit and the pediatric transport team at Royal University Hospital were provincialized in 2014. The pediatric intensive care unit treats critically ill children, while the transport team safely transports them from across the province to the unit.
“What this means is that through communication and partnership with all the health regions in the province, we are now able to bring the sickest children to our pediatric intensive care unit here in Saskatoon. We realized that, given the low number of children with critically ill diseases in the province, having multiple sites for pediatric intensive care was not beneficial. By amalgamating and bringing the expertise of pediatric specialists to one place, we’ve managed to save lives and improve the outcomes for critically ill children in Saskatchewan,” he says.
Other projects that Dr. Givelichian is working on include:
- Research on the role of caffeine in improving memory in neonatal infants (babies less than one month old).
- The implementation of an obesity and eating disorder clinic for children.
- A provincial pediatric complex care initiative that will bring together a team composed of physicians, nurses, dieticians and social workers who will manage the care of children that require frequent hospitalization.
- The provincialization of a program that will relocate children admitted to a tertiary care hospital like Royal University Hospital to the nearest home hospital that can meet their needs in order to be closer to family.
“Our principle is to provide medical treatment closest to home where possible,” he says. “Family-centred care is our biggest priority at the present time. It’s crucial for parents to be involved in the care of a child, and for children to feel the closeness of their family, in order to diminish stress.”
Dr. Givelichian says it’s also important for children to be treated in a home-like environment, which is one of the reason’s the new Children’s Hospital of Saskatchewan will be so beneficial.
“There are studies that show when a child is treated in a home-like environment, their stay in hospital is diminished significantly and the outcome is much better due to the fact that you reduce stress,” he says. “All of this will be reflected in the new children’s hospital, where each room, including the furniture, is designed with the family in mind, and the parents will be able to stay 24/7 with their child.”
Dr. Givelichian says that one of the proudest moments of his career was hearing that the children’s hospital was approved in 2007 – five years after he had started advocating for its construction.
“This was my proudest moment because of what it represents for the future of children in this province,” says Dr. Givelichian.
Prioritizing children and the care they receive
“I knew right from the time I was in medical school that I was attracted to the field of pediatrics,” he says, “because of the diversity of medical issues it presents, and the fact that with the right management and treatment, children are going to get better much faster than adults. For a physician, this is extremely rewarding.”
But working with children isn’t without its challenges.
“Whatever you do, do it through the eyes of a child,” says Dr. Givelichian of the best advice he’s received during his career. “Once you understand that, everything changes because now you’ve put yourself in the child’s situation.”
It was by looking through the eyes of a child that Dr. Givelichian was motivated to change the way children in Pelican Narrows, a remote community in northern Saskatchewan, receive care.
“The old type of delivering pediatric care to children from Pelican Narrows was to have the pediatric transport team bring them to Saskatoon and treat them here,” he says.
Today, children in Pelican Narrows are assessed through a robotic device that allows pediatricians in Saskatoon to assess the child through the robot and to advise the healthcare provider in Pelican Narrows on the treatment required, preventing unnecessary transfers and allowing more children to be treated in their home community.
“This eliminates unnecessary separation of children from their parents, and tremendously reduces the children’s level of anxiety,” he explains.
Dr. Givelichian describes children as the most vulnerable and valuable population group in our society.
“As a physician in pediatrics, I feel very fortunate to be able to make sure that our children develop into healthy adults,” he says. “And, as an administrator, I’m fortunate to be able to lay the ground for a strong pediatric structure for the whole province.”
When not influencing the care of pediatric patients in the province, Dr. Givelichian volunteers on the board of directors for the Children’s Hospital Foundation of Saskatchewan and travels with his wife of 22 years and daughters, ages 18 and 14.