Listen to Austin 360 Radio

Dell Children’s expanding with new pavilion, adding heart, bone marrow transplants

Nicole Villalpando /
The Dell Children’s Specialty Pavilion will house heart, brain and cancer specialists as well as a new fetal maternal health program that will allow mothers to deliver babies with medical needs at Dell Children’s. It is expected to open next year. [Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas]

For Central Texas parents of children with serious medical conditions, the days of having to travel to Houston or Dallas or beyond to get to specialized care might soon be over.

Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas is expanding its program with a $113 million building project and a $30 million matching grant from the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation. Additional expansions are planned with a $300 million investment from Ascension, the parent company of Dell Children’s.

Next month, ground will be broken on the Dell Children’s Specialty Pavilion, a four-story, 161,000-square-foot building to the east of the hospital. It will house three programs that have been expanding: the Texas Center for Pediatric and Congenital Heart Disease, the Neurosciences Center of Excellence, and the Children’s Blood and Cancer Center of Excellence.

The Specialty Pavilion is expected to open in April 2021. It will be attached to the hospital by a walkway, which will be helpful in allowing patients and doctors to go between the hospital and the pavilion without having to go outside.

The building also will house a new Fetal Center, which will allow mothers who are healthy but know they are carrying a baby with a serious medical condition to deliver at Dell Children’s. Their babies can be cared for by specialists right away rather than being transported to Dell Children’s after birth. Delivery rooms inside the hospital will be built out as well. The delivery rooms will be ready by July 2021.

The expansion will have implications for other specialties. Building the Dell Children’s Specialty Pavilion means that cardiology, neurology and oncology doctors will move their offices out of the hospital and the nearby ’Specially for Children building. This will free up space for hiring additional doctors in other specialties.

The focus is on getting “the right people, the right technology and the right facility,” Dell Children’s President Christopher Born said. “This is a game-changer.”

When he arrived from Texas Children’s in 2017, Born asked the hospital’s planning committee to tell him what kind of things took children out of Austin to seek care. They were heart, neurosciences and oncology, he said.

Families were moving and even separating as one parent took care of the child in a hospital in Houston or Dallas and the other parent took care of the other children at home.

“People with good insurance can do that,” he said, “but it means the poor can’t do that. ... There’s a social impact of what we are doing.”

Dell Children’s is calling this the “Here” campaign — to keep kids here. The hospital shares these statistics: Since Dell Children’s opened in 2007, Central Texas families have spent 9,166 days and nights away from home for cardiovascular treatment, 2,512 for neuroscience care and 4,722 for oncology/hematology care.

Two big things that Dell Children’s has not been able to do yet are heart transplants and bone marrow transplants. In the past year, a team for heart transplants has been built, and it is a few months away from doing its first heart transplant. Dell Children’s is hiring physicians to start a bone marrow transplant team. Born estimates the hospital is six months to a year away from being able to offer those.

The new specialty center project also comes with two parking garages. The first will open next month, and the second will open next year. Both will offer free parking for patients and their families.

Technology means adding a $6.5 million 3T MRI in June to get more precise imaging for people with epilepsy. It means adding $2.3 million in epilepsy monitoring systems, and it means upgrading the patient rooms and operating rooms in the hospital’s cardiac care unit, which opened last June.

Long-range plans include additional buildings for specialty care in the current parking lot as well as two more parking garages.

This is the next step in the evolution in pediatric care in Central Texas, from first having a wing at Brackenridge Hospital, to the opening of the Children’s Hospital next to Brackenridge, to the current Dell Children’s Medical Center opening in 2007, the Dell Pediatric Research Institute opening in 2009 and the Dell Medical School at the University of Texas opening in 2016, allowing Dell Children’s to attract more notable physicians to Austin to build the program.

Much of the community funding has been led by the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation.

“With Dell Children’s vision, and their partnership with Dell Medical School, our community has the opportunity to make Dell Children’s a destination for the very highest level of pediatric healthcare in Central Texas and beyond,” Susan Dell, co-founder and board chair of the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, said by email. “That means we can serve the most critically ill children right here in Austin, which is incredibly exciting, and something Michael and I are honored to be a part of.”

Even though Austin has been named the No. 1 place to live in the U.S. in multiple polls and has become one of the fastest-growing cities, the children’s hospital has not kept up with the population.

“Dell Children’s quite frankly doesn’t rank in the top 50 in pediatric subspecialists,” Born said. “It didn’t have the academic engine.”

Now, with the Dell Medical School, it does, and that is making a difference in the caliber of physicians it can attract, many of whom also share duties at the medical school.

Two big gets in the past two years were Dr. Charles Fraser, who left Texas Children’s to come to Austin to teach at Dell Medical School and head the Texas Center for Pediatric and Congenital Heart Disease, and Dr. Steve Roach, the head of neuroscience, who left Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, a program he built into one of the top 10 in the country.

They have been building up a team of other doctors. Roach estimates that he’s added eight neurologists, about a third of the 24 he expects to assemble.

“It’s not just a matter of hiring physicians,” he said. “It’s a matter of building clinical programs that are unique.”

For example, Dell Children’s added a headache specialist last year and will add another, plus a headache fellowship to train a doctor in this specialty. It’s adding a pediatric multiple sclerosis team, an epilepsy team that is fluent in Spanish, a pediatric stroke specialist, and a neuromuscular specialist to treat things such as muscular dystrophy. It’s also adding psychologists to its clinics.

Roach expects Dell Children’s to grow the way he saw Nationwide Children’s Hospital grow. Patients in Columbus used to travel to Cincinnati, Cleveland or even Pittsburgh for care.

“As the program grew, it began to attract people outside Ohio and outside the Midwest for some of the programs,” he said. “In four or five years, we started getting people from the city of Cleveland and city of Cincinnati.”

We could see the same thing here, with people from Waco and San Antonio choosing Austin instead of Houston or Dallas and people from Houston or Dallas driving to Austin.

“The city has matured into a need to be able to have programs like this,” Roach said. “We have to have for most children the ability to take care of them. We’ve matured to the point where it’s time.”

More growth and projects will be coming.

“It’s exciting every day to come here,” Born said. “This is what Austin needs.”

Find out more information at

Dell Children’s expansion