Compassionate Care

Where Heroes and Healing Intersect

Sara Higginson, M.D., with Merhria, a patient at Shriners Children’s Ohio.

How a pivotal moment helped Sara Higginson, M.D., lead one of the world’s top burn centers

Sara Higginson, M.D., was working as an emergency medical service pilot for MedFlight of Ohio when a chance encounter changed the direction of her life. She flew a trauma patient to a Columbus hospital, and that’s where she witnessed the trauma surgeon in action. To her, he was a superhero.

“He entered with a cape billowing, four pagers on his waist, and in an instant, he had full command of the room,” Dr. Higginson described. “I knew in that moment I wanted to be ‘that guy.’”

Last fall, Dr. Higginson, now a burn surgeon, joined the team at Shriners Children’s Ohio as the new chief of staff. You could call it a homecoming – returning to the state where one powerful encounter defined what would become her life’s work.

“Shriners Children’s is the rock star in the burn world. They’ve been part of every major advancement in the prevention and treatment of burns and have some of the best outcomes,” said Dr. Higginson. “When I saw the posting for the chief of staff position at Shriners Children’s Ohio, I felt like I was shown my destiny,” she added.

Providing unmatched expertise

Sara Higginson, M.D., says advancing the care for young patients and supporting the Shriners Children’s mission is a gift.

As chief of staff, Dr. Higginson leads a medical team committed to providing the best outcome for every child who needs burn or craniofacial care. That team includes plastic surgeons who perform cleft lip and palate and complex craniofacial surgeries but also treat patients with complex burn reconstruction and scar modification.

“I want us to be the first call providers make if they have a child with a burn injury,” she explained. “I want us to say ‘yes’ to some of the most complicated craniofacial conditions. What our surgeons are able to do is magic,” Dr. Higginson described.

“Some of the children we care for would likely not survive without these surgeries. Sometimes, our doctors are literally reconstructing a child’s skull or face; the team includes a neurosurgeon to give the child the best functional outcome.”

Dr. Higginson stresses that for parents dealing with a child’s burn injury or learning their baby will be born with a craniofacial condition, there is no such thing as a “simple case.”

“You want the best for your child, and that’s what you’ll get at Shriners Children’s Ohio,” she said.

Dr. Higginson also quickly points out another hallmark of the Shriners Children’s mission: wrap-around care by a multidisciplinary team.

“I’m so impressed by the experience of the clinical team who are all working toward the same goal: the best outcome for that child,” she said. “We have rounds multiple times a day with every discipline involved in that child’s care – from nursing and rehab to nutrition and pharmacy. Social workers and care managers make sure the parents and families are also part of the process.”

From superhero fan to leading pediatric surgeon

A shining smile: Young Bibiana receives care at Shriners Children’s Ohio.

Her encounter with the superhero surgeon led Dr. Higginson to enroll at The Ohio State University and earn her medical degree. After completing her surgical residency and fellowships, she became the medical director of burns at the Leon S. Peters Burn Center in Fresno, California.

Dr. Higginson said that even while working at other hospitals, everyone knew the reputation of Shriners Children’s.

She spent her career improving her skills as a surgeon and elevating the type of care she delivered to patients, so when she was named chief of staff at Shriners Children’s Ohio, it seemed like fate.

“Working with children and being part of their continuity of care is especially meaningful. Having the opportunity to advance the care for our young patients and support the Shriners Children’s mission is a gift,” said Dr. Higginson.