Surgical NICU

baby surgery

Babies present a unique challenge when it comes to surgery because of their small size, complex conditions and rapidly changing metabolisms. Their health can change in an instant, requiring quick action and expertise. No other hospital in the region is prepared to meet this challenge like CHOC Children’s. We proudly offer the only Surgical Neonatal Intensive Care Unit on the West Coast, providing highly specialized care for babies who need surgery.

The Surgical NICU provides expert pre- and post-operative care, as well as intra-operative care, with the ability to convert a specialized room within the NICU into a state-of-the-art operating room when the need arises. All surgical equipment, supplies and technology, including extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) and high-frequency ventilation, are readily available, just as they are in our traditional operating rooms.

Ready for the Call

Some conditions requiring surgery may be identified during prenatal testing. OB/GYN specialists or perinatologists who identify a problem may make a referral to our Surgical NICU team. We will meet one-on-one with a family, along with our top specialists, to review a baby’s condition and plan for a surgery that will take place after the baby is born. For prenatal consultations, please call 714-509-4373.

When a baby is born, the CHOC Children’s Transport Team is ready and waiting to transport newborns to CHOC from other hospitals in Southern California. Our neonatologists and surgeons are available for consultations with other hospitals around the clock and are able to collaborate with referring physicians via phone, telemedicine and secure text messaging. To consult with our team or schedule a transport, referring hospitals may call the CHOC Children’s NICU at 714-509-8540.


Our multidisciplinary team includes pediatric-trained surgeons and neonatologists who collaborate at a level not seen at most hospitals.

Together, they have set new standards of care for neonatal surgery. This unique effort has led to improved patient outcomes for many babies who otherwise may not have access to the specialized care they need.

In addition to neonatologists and pediatric surgeons, the team includes a dedicated neonatal nurse practitioner, anesthesiologists, specialized nurses, respiratory therapists, dietitians, pharmacists, speech therapists, occupational and physical therapists, social workers and case managers. The interdisciplinary team rounds jointly and discusses every baby’s care as a group, forming a treatment plan that may also call on the expertise of other specialty areas of the hospital, such as gastroenterology, infectious disease, genetics, pulmonology, neurology or radiology. Parents and families are also vital members of the team and are partners in every stage of their baby’s care.

Special Procedures for Babies

CHOC Children’s surgeons are trained and experienced in pediatric general and thoracic surgery, cardiothoracic surgery, gastrointestinal (GI) surgery, neurosurgery, urological surgery, otolaryngological (ENT) surgery, plastic surgery, ophthalmologic surgery and orthopaedic surgery. We perform some of the most complex surgeries available, including mandibular distraction and ex utero intra-partum (EXIT) procedures. We treat most neonatal conditions including:

New Standards of Care

We have developed new standards of care that anticipate the unique challenges that babies may face before, during and after surgery, including pain management, reactions to anesthesia, medication dosing, hypothermia prevention, wound care and healing, special feeding requirements and growth and development needs.

After surgery, babies recover in the Surgical NICU for as long as necessary in a comfortable space that promotes healing and low stress. As a baby heals and becomes stabilized, we encourage parents and families to hold, feed and care for them just as they would at home. Learn more about parenting in the NICU.

Leading the Way

Dr. Irfan Ahmad

Dr. Irfan Ahmad



Dr. Mustafa Kabeer

Dr. Mustafa Kabeer

Dr. Irfan Ahmad is the co-director of the Surgical NICU and is board certified in neonatology. He has expertise in diagnosing and treating various medical and surgical conditions in premature and mature babies. He has been with CHOC Children’s for seven years and also serves as an associate clinical professor of pediatrics with academic appointment at UC Irvine Health. Dr. Ahmad emphasizes the importance of having a unit dedicated to surgical care for babies because of their unique needs and challenges. The unit also provides a foundation for staff to refine the most proven techniques in caring for babies, rather than using techniques meant for older children. “I am dedicated to providing the very best evidence-based care by effective team-building, communication, education and most of all, care and compassion for babies and their families.” Learn more about Dr. Ahmad.

Dr. Mustafa Kabeer is the co-director of the Surgical NICU. “My role as co-director of the Surgical NICU is to contribute surgical and critical care expertise from a surgical perspective. This provides insight into the nuances of surgical procedures not fully realized and appreciated by non-surgeons. This, combined with the medical management expertise from neonatology, yields a unique blend that allows for total care of these babies at a level surpassing the ability of any single service to be able to provide,” he says. Dr. Kabeer has fellowship training in pediatric surgery as well as pediatric surgical critical care combined with experience working as a neonatal hospitalist, all driving his philosophy to work on collaborative relationships that greatly benefits patients. “I am passionate because this type of program exists for adults and has done so for over half a century. It has been proven to improve communication and provide better care and outcomes for critically ill adults. Yet, it is still a novel idea for neonates and premature babies even though they tend to have the most significant physiological changes and are the most fragile and susceptible. We need to be committed to providing our sickest and smallest babies with the best coordinated care we can provide.” Learn more about Dr. Kabeer.

When Your Baby Needs Surgery

Will Your Newborn Need Surgery? Plan Now
Some babies are born with complex conditions requiring surgery during the first few hours following birth. From the moment prenatal testing reveals an abnormality, CHOC Children’s is ready to help.

Mandibular Distraction
Our Surgical NICU is one of the few places in the country that performs mandibular distraction, a process of lengthening a baby's jaw to improve breathing and feeding. Learn more about mandibular distraction.

Pioneers in Coordinated Treatment
What makes CHOC's Surgical NICU so special? Learn about better outcomes, current research projects and more in this blog post.

When Your Baby Needs Surgery
Babies with surgical needs require special attention. Get advice from our experts for preparing your infant for surgery in this health feature at

Alicia's Story

Little Alicia was born at full term, beautiful with 10 fingers, 10 toes and a life-threatening defect buried inside her tiny chest. Alicia had a congenital diaphragmatic hernia (CDH), a condition wherein a hole in the diaphragm allows abdominal organs to move into the chest. And this case was especially serious.


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UC Irvine

CHOC Children's is affiliated with the UC Irvine School of Medicine