Heart Kids: Why We Use That Term For Our Awesome Patients

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If you have been following the smallbeats blog, you have probably seen the term “heart kid” on more than one occasion.

Parents have asked us: “Why do you call kids with heart conditions ‘heart kids’?”

That’s an important question, and one that I am happy to answer. 

A Sense Of Belonging

On one or two occasions, parents have raised concerned about the term. They feel as if it is a label, and worry that their child will be defined by the heart condition.

This is a very valid concern.

In general, physicians, teachers, and parents prefer “person-first language.” With this language, the child is mentioned first. For example, we would say “a child with diabetes” rather than “a diabetic.”

For this reason, it makes sense that there is hesitation around saying “heart kids,” since it does attach a label, and puts the kid second.

However, the choice to use “heart kids” was a deliberate choice. Many families have found comfort in it. They feel less isolated, and that people understand them. Instead of being alone, they are part of a community.

But if you’re not comfortable using the term “heart kid” for your own child, that’s okay. It’s an individual choice, and you should use the language that you feel most comfortable using.

It’s Lighthearted

There’s no question about it—congenital heart defects (CHD) can be scary. And the language surrounding it can be disheartening, for lack of a better word.

The words “heart problem,” “heart disease,” and “defect” are fairly gloomy, and are a constant reminder that your child has something wrong with his heart.

We coined the term “heart kid” because it’s little lighter and easier to hear. Since it doesn’t include negative words like “disease” or “defect,” it allows you to focus more on the fact that your child—regardless of his medical condition—is still a kid.

So, while you’re making sure your child gets his medical needs met, you can still encourage him to enjoy his youth and all of the fun things that come with it.

Their Hearts Are Courageous

The last reason is personal for me, and for everyone at Children’s.

We love what we do, because we love helping kids get better. And of course, we love our patients.

The kids we treat are so brave. They go through tests and treatments that other kids their age don’t always have to experience. They sometimes spend weeks in the hospital, away from their friends and classmates.

And through it all, they still find ways to be kids. They play, make art projects, and tell jokes.

They cry and pout, but they come out smiling and ready for what’s ahead. They work their way into everyone’s hearts, and we love caring for them.

These kids amaze us. They have our hearts, and that’s why they are heart kids.

Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Sean Akers

Hi, I’m Dr. Sean Akers, and I’m a Licensed Clinical Pediatric Psychologist at Children’s Hospital & Medical Center in Omaha. I serve as the primary psychologist for the heart transplant team as well as the coordinator of the Consult Liaison Service. My job is to provide heart kids and their families with support throughout their journey.

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