A cute kidney injury (AKI) a sudden and often severe episode of kidney failure affects approximately 13 million people worldwide each year. When it strikes, the condition develops quickly, usually in a matter of a few days or even hours, causing a buildup of waste products in the blood that the kidney can no longer filter. Critically ill patients who are already hospitalized are most at-risk, but certain bacterial infections can cause otherwise healthy people to develop sudden and extreme cases of AKI. Guillermo Hidalgo, MD, a board-certified pediatric nephrologist and chief of pediatric nephrology at K. Hovnanian Children’s Hospital at Jersey Shore University Medical Center in Neptune, recalled one case in particular.

“A child came to me with an episode of hemolytic uremic syndrome [HUS is a condition that occurs when the small blood vessels in the kidneys become damaged, causing clots that clog the kidneys’ filtering system], caused by exposure to the bacteria E. coli,” noted Dr. Hidalgo. “Within three days, the patient went into total renal failure and required dialysis. She was only five years old.”

Dr. Hidalgo described HUS as relatively common but potentially fatal, and he and his team needed to respond quickly. After five days of peritoneal dialysis, a procedure that removes waste products from the blood through a catheter inserted into the abdomen, the young patient made a full recovery, regaining kidney function on her own.

The son of an oncology surgeon and nurse, and brother to a midwife, Dr. Hidalgo’s passion for pediatrics was ignited in high school, galvanized to help “those without a voice.”

Nicole Spread

He joined K. Hovnanian Children’s Hospital in October 2019, which, along with Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital in Hackensack, comprises Hackensack Meridian Health’s Children’s Health network. For the second year in a row, the network received the number one ranking in the state and top 20 in the Mid-Atlantic region in the U.S. News & World Report’s 2022-23 Best Children’s Hospital Report. The hospital’s pediatric nephrology program also landed a top 50 ranking in the country.

Within the pediatric nephrology department, Dr. Hidalgo and his team offer cutting-edge treatments for a wide range of renal conditions and anomalies in children, from newborns to young adults. The team even treats prenatal conditions, diagnoses that get identified in the mother’s womb during an ultrasound. Conditions range from simple to complex, including inflammation of the kidneys, hypertension, high blood pressure, acute kidney injury, and chronic kidney disease. Dr. Hidalgo noted he is also responsible for moving patients into life-saving transplantation performed on the Hackensack University Medical Center campus.

“We offer all varieties of treatments in our network that can save the lives of even the most vulnerable patients,” explained Dr. Hidalgo. “We currently have a 19-month-old baby who is undergoing intermediate hemodialysis three times a week.”

In addition to peritoneal dialysis, the hospital offers a full scope of leading-edge procedures, including hemodialysis, used to treat children from newborn to 22 years old suffering from acute kidney failure; continuous veno-venous hemofiltration (CVVH), a treatment for patients with low blood pressure who cannot tolerate hemodialysis; and plasma therapy, performed on patients with autoimmune diseases like lupus that remove the pathogenic antibodies causing the body to attack its own tissue.

“The uniqueness of the pediatric age group is it’s very labor intensive,” noted Dr. Hidalgo. “When treating kids, you have to read what they need, then make an assessment and plan, and then communicate everything to the parents. The need for understanding is different; you are explaining the situation to the parents step by step, keeping them up to date every step of the way.”

Dr. Hidalgo, who received his medical degree from the University of El Salvador and completed his residency at SUNY Downstate Medical Center, was drawn to the HMH network for its focus on forwarding public health, particularly in providing life-saving care to those who typically lack access to healthcare. As a young child, the El Salvador-born physician recalled accompanying his nurse mother on trips to provide care to low-resource communities, an experience that would one day fuel his desire to expand healthcare access to everyone in need.

“Hackensack Meridian Children’s Health’s focus on public health was key for me,” said Dr. Hidalgo. “Where we’re located in Neptune, we’ve already seen a significant amount of growth. Since I joined in 2019, we’ve tripled our practice, and I see potential for continued growth, to cover even more areas of the state we aren’t currently reaching.”
Dr. Hidalgo is also reaching outside U.S. borders through the program Saving Young Lives, an initiative by the International Society of Nephrology that trains physicians in low-resource areas in how to treat and manage patients with acute kidney failure. He recently returned from two workshops in Singapore and Colombia, where he trained peer groups of 16-18 doctors and nurses in peritoneal dialysis.

“We invite medical professionals from towns that are far from major cities, or along borders with other countries that don’t have a lot of medical resources, and we teach them how to manage acute kidney injury, so they can provide care to the ones not being helped.”

K.Hovnanian Children’s Hospital
at Jersey Shore University Medical Center 1945 NJ-33, Neptune City / www.hackensackmeridianhealth.org/kids