Preventing the Unexpected
Fifty years ago, congenital heart defects took the lives of 80 percent of children born with them. Today, thanks to advances in pediatric heart surgery and medical care, 90 percent survive well into adulthood.
There is mounting evidence that adults born with congenital heart defects are at high risk for continued complications – a risk many people are unaware of.
Today, we know very few cardiac problems are fixed completely in infancy,” said Michael G. Earing, MD, Medical College of Wisconsin internist and pediatrician. “Fortunately, we’ve also learned there is much we can do to prevent and manage these heart issues for older patients.”
For that reason Dr. Earing opened a clinic two years ago at the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin Herma Heart Center. He primarily sees adults with congenital heart defects, providing diagnosis of ongoing problems and treatment. Earing is one of only 50 cardiologists in the United States currently trained in this sub-specialty. He practices at Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin and Children’s Hospital. If necessary, Dr. Earing performs interventions including cardiac catheterization and surgery. His clinic is one of just 30 such clinics in the country, and the only one in Wisconsin.
His patients come to him with a variety of conditions. “Some have rhythm problems. Some even have one pumping chamber (single ventricle),” he said. “There are more than 30 types of congenital heart defects, and multiple variations of each.”
For people born with heart defects, the consequences of not following up could lead to serious problems, such as the inability to exercise or even heart failure. Women who plan on becoming pregnant require careful evaluation, because their heart defects may complicate a pregnancy.
Because so many adults with congenital heart defects might not be aware they should be evaluated, Dr. Earing and his colleagues are working with the National Institutes of Health to establish a registry to help locate and encourage them to see a specialist.
Dr. Earing’s clinic at Children’s Hospital is one of 10 involved in a multidisciplinary project to collect data from patients to form a knowledge base. “We’re learning so much from our patients. We hope to develop protocols to make it better for the next generation,” he said.
Dr. Earing can’t stress enough the importance of regular follow up for people who had heart surgery as children. “Many of these patients are at risk for problems during adulthood,” he said. And, as with many other medical conditions, if problems are identified and treated early, outcomes can be greatly improved.
Source: Froedtert Today
Date: March 2007