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16-year-old patient: ‘I want to live’

Dr. Erin Kienha performs life-changing brain surgery on children




As a pediatric neurosurgeon, Dr. Erin Kiehna spends her days advocating for babies that could fit in the palm of your hand. She extracts brain tumors from children with cancer, places shunts in infants with excess fluid on their brains, and performs life-changing surgery on patients with seizures. 

Kiehna (pronounced KEY-na), tries to focus on the possibilities instead of the challenges. She once successfully removed a 16-year-old girl’s brain tumor that other neurosurgeons had deemed inoperable. “I asked her what she wanted… she looked at me, and said, ‘I want to live,’ Kiehna recalls. “I told her I was going to do everything I could to make that happen. I attended her high school graduation two years later.” 

Kiehna joined Novant Health in September after moving to Charlotte from Los Angeles, where she spent four years as a pediatric neurosurgeon. 

‘I will never forget’ 

Kiehna’s love for neurosurgery began when she was an undergraduate at Vanderbilt University. She spent her summers shadowing the world-renowned surgeons and oncologists at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, where she fell in love with the specialty.  

“I will never forget the day I was invited into the operating room to watch a brain surgery,” she said. “Watching the surgeon remove a massive tumor from this tiny skull, revealing the pristine anatomy of the brain … I knew then that this is what I wanted to do with my life.” 

And that she did.  

Kiehna graduated from Yale School of Medicine in 2006 before pursuing a residency in neurosurgery at the University of Virginia (UVA). She was the first female neurosurgery resident at UVA.  

After her residency, Kiehna pursued a fellowship in pediatric neurosurgery at the renowned Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto Ontario, Canada. She then accepted a position as a pediatric neurosurgeon with Children’s Hospital Los Angeles where she spent four years. She returned to the East Coast to join Novant Health in 2017, where she will build the health care system’s pediatric neurosurgery program.  

‘Worst day of their life’  

As a pediatric neurosurgeon, Kiehna said she’s not just taking care of her patient, but their families, too.  

“When parents see me, it’s already the worst day of their life,” Kiehna says. “It’s important that they know I’m going to do everything I can to help their child.” 

One of the things Kiehna says captivated her about working with children is the strength of their character; their resiliency. 

“Children aren’t just little adults,” she said. “They’re growing and changing at a rapid rate, and their developing brains require a different level of care than the adult brain. Because of that plasticity, they have the ability to bounce back much faster than we can.”  

Kiehna wants parents to know that she sees their children as more than just patients – she sees them as family. 

“Knowing that I can give these kids their best shot gets me out of bed in the morning,” Kiehna said. “Getting to be a part of their journey is an honor and a privilege.” 

Kiehna sees patients at the Pediatric Multi-Specialty Center located at 201 Queens Road, Charlotte. To schedule a consultation or to learn more, please call 704-316-3070.

Meet brain surgeon Dr. Erin Kiehna from Novant Health Healthy Headlines on Vimeo.




Published: 1/12/2018