Caring for Those with Congenital Heart Disease
Congenital heart defects, better known as abnormalities of the heart, remain the most prevalent type of birth defect, affecting one in every 133 people. This year, the American Heart Association will recognize Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Week from Feb. 7-14 to advocate nationwide about the impact of these conditions on newborns, children, adolescents and adults alike.
“I think that a lot of doctors don’t even realize how common it is,” said Giles Peek, M.D., FRCS, C.Th., FFICM, a professor and cardiothoracic surgeon at the UF Health Congenital Heart Center. “They often don’t think that the heart is the source of the problem because they don’t associate heart issues with a baby.”
Congenital heart defects, or CHDs, vary in severity and present with different symptoms, including shortness of breath, blue-tinted skin and swollen body tissues or organs. These conditions can arise from complications with the walls of the heart, the valves of the heart or the arteries and veins near the heart, disrupting normal blood flow. With proper treatment through medication and surgery, children born with CHDs often live well into adulthood. In the United States alone, an estimated 1.4 million adults currently live with a congenital heart defect.
The UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital’s pediatric cardiology and heart surgery program is ranked No. 11 among the Top 50 programs in the nation by U.S. News & World Report, and consistently exceeds the national operative survival rate average. In addition to treating newborns, children and adolescents, health care providers with the program also see an average annually of 1,900-plus adult congenital heart patients, making the program’s team well-versed in all levels of care.
“It is a completely integrated program,” Peek said. “Everybody works on the same team rather than the situation in many other hospitals where cardiology, surgery, anesthesia and everyone else are in separate teams.”
This multidisciplinary approach allows the team, led by Mark Bleiweis, M.D., to remain ahead of the curve as the first in Florida to perform a pediatric heart transplant, infant heart transplant and Berlin Heart® implant. The program also performed a heart-lung transplant on the youngest infant in 2013, and has successfully separated conjoined twins who were connected at the heart, liver and sternum.
Despite its accomplishments, the program is always looking to grow. Surgical suites have been renovated to remain on the leading edge of technology and patient care. Physicians continue their research through basic and clinical trials, even establishing the UF Health Congenital Heart Center Journal Club, which meets monthly to discuss relevant literature on congenital heart defects and treatment.