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A pediatric interventional radiologist stands next to an x-ray
December 20, 2019

Introducing… a pediatric interventional radiologist

A simple thank you can leave a lasting impression.

Dr. John Donnellan can still remember the smile on the little boy’s face when he removed his port, which signaled the end of his chemotherapy treatment.

“He turned to me after he woke up and said ‘Thanks, doc!’ It made my day. Two little words that let me know that what I do matters,” says Dr. Donnellan, who has been with Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) for close to two years. “It was my most gratifying moment working here.”

Dr. Donnellan is a pediatric interventional radiologist at McMaster Children’s Hospital (MCH). He’s one of a select few in this role working in Canada. And MCH is one of only two hospitals in the province that employ this type of physician with Dr. Donnellan being the only one at HHS.

He was hired for his expertise in performing minimally invasive procedures on our youngest patients, a skill set that’s hard to find.

It’s well known these techniques benefit patients but more so for kids due to their small size. Families are keen to see their young, growing children get a minimal amount of disruption as part of their care.

A pediatric interventional radiologist adminsters a needle in a patient.

Finding tiny veins in tiny humans

The challenge, Dr. Donnellan says, is it can be difficult for some doctors to treat babies and small children.

“You’re trying to find tiny veins and arteries in the tiniest of humans, many of whom require complex care,” he says. “It takes a certain demeanour to work with them.”

“If I’m needed, I will spend that extra time to care for one more patient.”

In addition, for young doctors who have small children of their own, it can be hard to treat similarly-aged patients about to undergo major procedures.

That’s not lost on Dr. Donnellan who has a one-year-old at home with his wife. But he relishes the role he plays.

“I love working with kids! Young and old, they always bring a smile to my face,” he says. “And if I’m lucky, I get to help them through their journey in the hospital.”

A pediatric interventional radiologist work on an x-ray machine.

Taking the time to care for our youngest patients

Three days a week, Dr. Donnellan provides minimally invasive surgeries for children including biopsies, IV lines, feeding solutions for complex care children and treatment of birthmarks.

The other two days of the week are spent in our diagnostic imaging department doing x-rays, CT scans and ultrasounds. You may also find him performing bedside procedures in our emergency department and intensive care unit.

“If I’m needed, I will spend that extra time to care for one more patient,” he says. “As a parent, I would want the same from my doctor.”

He recalls the young boy whose port he removed as a sign of the impact he can make as a doctor. It’s a reminder of how lucky he considers himself to work in health care.

“Every time I put a port in a patient, I hope to myself that I get to see them again,” he says. “When I do, I’m grateful for that opportunity. For those children, it’s the end of that phase of their lives and they get to move on.”

You can follow Dr. Donnellan on Twitter @JD_PIR where he shares items of interest to healthcare professionals relating to pediatric interventional radiology.