6 Things You Didn’t Know About Congenital Heart Defects
Finding out your child has a congenital heart defect (CHD) brings up a lot of questions—What does this mean for my child? Will he get better? Does he need a transplant?
Answering these questions is part of my job, and I’m always happy to help families understand CHD. In addition to answering questions about their child’s CHD, I like to give families some little known facts.
Here are 6 facts about CHD that I like to share with patients and their families.
1. You Are Not Alone
Finding out that your child has a congenital heart defect can be scary and overwhelming—but it doesn’t need to be isolating. CHD is the most common type of birth defect in the US: About 40,000 babies here are born with CHD every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
2. When Heart Kiddos Are No Longer Kiddos
As medical care has improved, so have survival rates. There are about 1 million US children living with CHD, and most live to adulthood.
3. One Beat Ahead: Major Advancements in CHD Diagnosis And Care
- 3D Heart Printing: Surgeons can now receive a 3D model of a patient’s heart before surgery so they can see the defect clearly, plan the operation, and even practice the procedure. This improves safety and success of heart surgery.
- 4D Flow MRI: There’s a new imaging technique on the horizon. 4D Flow MRI creates a live-action image of how blood flows through a child’s heart. This technique is still being studied, but it presents great promise for improving the imaging of how blood is flowing through the heart.
- Myogenesis: Researchers are studying myogenesis—methods for growing new heart muscle. According to the American Heart Association, the goal is to be able to replace muscle that wasn’t formed correctly with brand-new muscle.
4. Kids Come First
Open-heart surgery was first performed in 1944 on a 15-month-old girl with tetralogy of fallot—a type of CHD that’s actually a group of four separate defects. The surgery is said to have paved the way for adult open-heart surgery, which wasn’t developed until the next decade, the US National Library of Medicine notes.
The operation was a success, and ended up prolonging thousands of lives. A modified version—the Modified Blalock-Taussig shunt—is still used today, according to Understanding Pediatric Heart Sounds: Second Edition (2003).
5. Trying Transplants
The first heart transplant for an infant occurred in 1984, when a 10-day-old baby received a new heart, notes Current Cardiology Reviews (May 2011). The success continued into the next year, when a 4-day-old boy also received a new heart.
Currently, about 500 pediatric transplants are performed worldwide each year, and survival rates continue to improve, according to the Pediatric Heart Transplant Study Foundation.
6. CHD In The Stars
CHD doesn’t discriminate—many celebrities were once heart kids:
- Miley Cyrus (singer and actress)
- Shaun White (professional snowboarder)
- Brian Littrell (singer from The Backstreet Boys)
- Arnold Schwarzenegger (actor and previous governor of California), who had elective surgery at 49 to repair a congenital heart condition, according to the Chicago Tribune (April 1997)
And a number of celebs are heart parents:
- Katherine Heigl (actress), whose daughter, Naleigh, had open-heart surgery, according to People magazine (May 2010)
- Bret Baier, a Fox News anchor who wrote a book about his son Paul’s heart condition, notes Fox News (May 2014)
- Chicago Bears cornerback Charles Tillman, whose daughter, Tiara, was born with a congenital heart defect, according to ESPN (November 2014)
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