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Q&A with Dr. Kanaan: Pulmonary Hypertension

Director of the Pulmonary Hypertension Program at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Heart Center Usama Kanaan, MD, discussed pulmonary hypertension and its treatment by the multidisciplinary team he leads at Sibley Heart Center Cardiology. Q: What is pulmonary hypertension? A: Pulmonary hypertension is a relatively rare disorder of the arteries in the lungs that results in elevated blood pressure in the lungs and strain on the right side of the heart. Q: What are the symptoms of pulmonary hypertension? A: Symptoms vary depending on the age of the patient and the severity of the condition. The most common symptom doctors see, especially in older children, is shortness of breath with exercise and activity. Sometimes there is fainting or chest pain with exertion. More rarely, doctors may observe signs of congestive heart failure, like swelling in the legs. Q: When do you typically see the condition emerge? A: There are many different forms of pulmonary hypertension, which can occur at different ages. One form called persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn (PPHN) is exclusive to newborns, while idiopathic pulmonary arterial hypertension (IPAH) typically peaks in middle age but can also be seen in children. Q: What are the common causes and risk…

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Comprehensive Care at Sibley Surrounds Heart Warrior Family

When her 7-month-old seemed to have a progressively worsening cold the week of Thanksgiving, Shekeenah thought it best to get him checked out before the pediatrician’s offices closed for the holiday. She got the last appointment of the day and took Jonah for what she expected to be a routine visit. It was anything but routine. His respiratory rate extremely high, Jonah was taken by ambulance to Scottish Rite and Shekeenah and Ray soon learned that he had a cardiac fibroma, or heart tumor. It was a tumor so rare that they were told most cardiologists never see one in their career. Now 5 years old, Jonah is cared for by Chad Mao, MD, and the Advanced Cardiac Therapies team at the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Heart Center. Shekeenah says that Dr. Mao’s care since the beginning of their journey has been a comfort and a guiding light during their most difficult times. “I can’t say enough about Chad and what he means to our family,” Shekeenah said. “He’s excellent not just as a doctor, but as someone who cares about Jonah and our family as individuals. We’re not just a number to them. They truly have their patients’ best…

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CHD Diagnosis Alerted Family to Down Syndrome

As a young couple with one child living in Charleston, SC, Christie and Billy were expecting a routine ultrasound appointment at their 20-week check-up. However, when the nurse became quiet and asked them to wait for the doctor to come in, they knew something was wrong. They soon learned that their baby had a potentially serious heart defect. A specialist determined Emily had atrioventricular septal defect (AVSD), which features holes between the chambers of the right and left sides of the heart. In addition, the AV valve that controls the flow of blood between the chambers was not formed correctly. They learned that Emily would require surgery in her first months of life. Not only that, but this CHD was known to be common to babies born with Down syndrome or Trisomy 21. Christie had a MaterniT21 blood test to confirm. “When we got the results, we were devastated,” Christie said. “We cried with each other, family and friends. We missed several days of work while grieving. What we didn't know then is how absolutely amazing it is to have a child with Down syndrome. The endless laughs, hugs, affection, perseverance and determination to succeed is far more than most…

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Down Syndrome Awareness Month: Trisomy 21 and its Effect on the Heart

October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month! Sibley Heart Center Cardiology’s pediatric cardiologist, Rachel McKay, MD, took a few minutes to discuss how Trisomy 21 (T21) affects the hearts of some patients. Q: What is Trisomy 21? A: Trisomy 21 refers to the most common form of Down syndrome, a genetic disorder associated with developmental delays, characteristic facial features, and intellectual disabilities. It is caused by the presence of a full or partial extra copy of chromosome 21 and can affect other systems such as the heart and gastroenterology system. Q: What are the common causes and risk factors of Trisomy 21? A: There is a known association with advanced maternal age and Trisomy 21. However, in most cases, doctors are unable to identify a cause for the disorder. Q: How can Trisomy 21 affect the heart? A: There are several different cardiac lesions that can be associated with trisomy 21. One is an atrial septal defect (ASD), which is a hole between the two top chambers of the heart. Another is a ventricular septal defect (VSD), or hole between the bottom two chambers of the heart. Another is a “canal” type defect,  where there are holes in the upper and…

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Nurse Practitioner with Heart: Kelsey Dyes

Kelsey Dyes, pediatric cardiology nurse practitioner, joined Sibley Heart Center Cardiology in Macon just before the pandemic took off in February of 2020. Although it’s been an incredibly stressful time to work in healthcare, she said you wouldn’t know it from the environment at Sibley. Everyone rolls with the changes with a smile,” Kelsey said. “We’re supported in our concerns, and it’s still enjoyable to come to work, even with everything going on. The team is amazing, and they spend extra time educating our families and ensuring they feel heard and supported.” Kelsey said she has always wanted to work with kids and began her nursing career in a pediatric ICU in Savannah. She returned home to Macon while pursuing her nurse practitioner degree at University of Alabama at Birmingham and has since earned her doctorate. While in school, she did a rotation in outpatient primary pediatric care at Sibley with Brian Cardis, MD, and Wesley Blackwood, MD. “I wanted to have every opportunity I could possibly have,” Kelsey said. “I don’t want to ever be out of patient care, but if someday I’m interested in teaching or conducting research, I’d like to have all those opportunities available to me.”…

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What is Cardiomyopathy?

Cardiomyopathy is a broad term that encompasses many different diagnoses. When broken down to its most basic form, cardiomyopathy is a long word that means “heart muscle disease.” This disease of the heart muscle makes it harder for the heart to pump blood to the rest of the body. The three most common types of cardiomyopathies that can affect both children and adults include dilated, hypertrophic and restrictive. Dilated cardiomyopathy occurs when the pumping ability of the heart declines and the heart becomes enlarged, or dilated, and can’t effectively pump blood. Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy involves abnormal thickening of the heart muscle, making it harder for the heart to work. This also mostly affects the left ventricle. Some people with this type of cardiomyopathy have a family history of the disease. Restrictive cardiomyopathy occurs when the heart muscle becomes stiff, so it can't expand and fill with blood between heartbeats. “People with cardiomyopathy have hearts that are sometimes bigger or stiffer than they should be, and this can change how the heart functions,” said Robert Whitehill, MD, pediatric cardiologist at Sibley Heart Center Cardiology. “Some hearts are of normal size, but the muscle does not work properly. If you have cardiomyopathy, your…

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Physicians with Heart: Dr. Neill Videlefsky

Dr. Neill Videlefsky loves going to work every day. He feels that it is a privilege to care for his patients and their families. A significant part of the reason he loves his job as a cardiologist so much is because “the outlook for the vast majority of children with congenital heart disease is excellent.” As time goes on and with modern technology, there is so much available to our patients – particularly with respect to interventional cardiology, biomedical engineering, computer simulation and other innovations. He goes on to explain, “In the past, many young patients would need open heart surgery. Now many of these children can be cured of their congenital heart disease by interventional procedures in the catheterization lab at the Children’s Heart Center that require just a one-night hospital stay. Parents and families have every reason to be optimistic and look forward to their child having a normal lifespan and a normal quality of life.” He is inspired by the resilience of his patients and appreciates the opportunity to form deep and long-lasting relationships that span from prenatal visits to young adulthood. Dr. Videlefsky’s journey to Sibley Heart Center Cardiology began thousands of miles away in South…

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Physicians with Heart: Dr. Andrea Kropf

Dr. Andrea Kropf knew from a very young age that she wanted to be a pediatric physician. During her residency at Emory University School of Medicine, working in pediatrics, she had the benefit of great mentors who piqued her interest in pediatric cardiology. She then spent time on service teams at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Heart Center and the outpatient cardiology clinics at Sibley Heart Center Cardiology  during residency and knew from that moment she wanted to be a pediatric cardiologist. Dr. Kropf explains, “Cardiac pathophysiology is extremely interesting, but my favorite aspect is the relationships with patients and their families – from fetal life to adulthood. I jumped at the opportunity to join the team at Sibley Heart Center Cardiology. My husband and I both grew up in the Atlanta area and we are happy to be back! I feel connected to this community in a special way and feel like my career has come full circle. I now treat kids that go to the same pediatric practice that I went to as a child – the one that made me want to be a pediatrician.” One of the things Dr. Kropf loves most about her job with Sibley Heart…

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Why Chloe’s Marathon is a Unique One

When Chris and Carol adopted Chloe from China in December of 2014, they knew she had a serious heart condition. Specifically, Chloe had multiple holes in her heart, a condition that is typically treated before a child is six months old. At two and a half years old, Chloe’s condition remained untreated. She weighed less than 20 pounds and was not yet walking. Less than a month after arriving in her new Marietta home, Chloe went to see Sibley Heart Center Cardiology pediatric cardiologist Dr. Peter Fischbach. His examination revealed Chloe’s pulse oxygen level was just 60%. An echocardiogram indicated several abnormalities including tetralogy of fallot (TOF), complete AV canal defect, and a double outlet right ventricle. Chloe’s first surgery successfully closed the holes in her heart. Following the first surgery, Chloe received her first pacemaker after her heart failed to come back to rhythm. Chloe spent several weeks in the hospital and did experience some fluid leakage after surgery, but by spring of 2015, she was walking and thriving until spring of 2019 when Carol and Chris noticed she was slowing down, getting tired, and feeling short of breath. In August of 2019, Dr. Martha Clabby, who had taken…

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Why Noah is a Heart Hero

Maria and Cesar’s heart journey began before their son Noah was even born. While alone at a routine checkup during the fifth month of her pregnancy, Noah’s mom, Maria, learned the child she was carrying had a rare and complex congenital heart condition. She was told he might not survive and if he did, caring for him would be extremely challenging. Upon receiving the heartbreaking news, Maria and Cesar connected with Dr. Shiva Sharma, a retired pediatric cardiologist at Sibley Heart Center Cardiology who monitored the pregnancy closely. While still in utero, Noah was diagnosed with single ventricle complex heart disease which means that instead of having two good-sized lower ventricle-pumping chambers, he would have just one. Dr. Sharma also confirmed Noah had heterotaxy syndrome, which means his abdominal organs and heart were in the wrong position. Noah’s heart and stomach were developing on the right side of his body instead of on the left. Heterotaxy syndrome is associated with immune system problems as well intestine and liver abnormalities. Following his birth, Noah remained in the cardiac intensive care unit (CICU) for two weeks until he was able to breathe on his own with 70-80 percent oxygen levels. Noah underwent…

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A Heart Warrior’s Parents Learn a Lesson in Strength

When one-day-old Caleigh was diagnosed with an atrial septal defect, her parents had a hard time wrapping their minds around what it meant. But when they were referred to a pediatric cardiologist at Sibley Heart Center Cardiology, CHD became real in their lives.  Chiandria and Khorey became well-versed quickly and learned that their daughter would require open heart surgery to repair the hole in her heart before she was three years old. They elected to have the surgery when Caleigh was two, hoping that she would not remember much about it and giving them the opportunity to highlight what a strong girl she is.  “On the day of surgery, we last saw her around 7:00 a.m. and not again until 2:15 p.m.,” Chiandria said. “Probably the most scary, awful moment was seeing her afterward, hooked up to tubes and laying there completely incapacitated. We’d just seen her that morning, happy and vibrant, and here she was, not moving at all. It was shocking.”  Chiandria says she was overwhelmed with emotion and brought to her knees. It was hard to take in. Although the next several hours were tough, the team at Sibley coached them through it.  “They took extra care…

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Heart Warriors Can Still Get into the Game

Sports can be an important part of childhood and being active in general is recommended for all kids to stave off obesity, increase cardiovascular health, improve mental health, and foster a sense of belonging with peers. One of the questions that families often have when they learn about a child’s CHD is, “Will my child be able to play sports?” Depending on the severity of the underlying condition, many children with CHD can participate in all different levels of sports with minor or no restrictions, said Glen Iannucci, MD, Director of the Aorta and Vascular Program at Sibley Heart Center Cardiology. The American Heart Association publishes a set of guidelines to help healthcare providers fully assess a child’s risk and determine what limitations are appropriate based on the nature of their original heart defect and what residual problems, if any, remain after correction. For example, some conditions, such as dilated blood vessels or aneurysms, would make certain contact sports or weightlifting problematic, but a sport like cross country could be a good option. In addition, the AAP publishes the Preparticipation Physical Evaluation forms, used by most schools in Georgia for sports clearances. The form is designed to identify “red flags”…

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Sudden Cardiac Arrest: What is It and How Can it be Prevented in Our Kids?

During National CPR and AED Awareness Week, June 1–7, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Heart Center places special emphasis on educating families about Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA). The week was set aside by Congress in 2007 to highlight how lives can be saved if more people know CPR and how to use an automated external defibrillator (AED). SCA occurs when the heart suddenly and unexpectedly stops beating normally—usually a result of a heart electrical abnormality—stopping blood flow to the brain and other vital organs. SCA is different from a heart attack, which is caused by a blockage of blood flow to the heart through one of the coronary arteries. While SCA is very rare in children and adolescents, it does happen, and if not treated within minutes, can lead to death. "The incidence of SCA in children is not fixed or even well known,” said Robert Campbell, MD, pediatric cardiologist and medical director of Project S.A.V.E. “It’s a small but emotionally powerful number, and we want to prevent every one of them.”  While there is much press coverage of SCA in teen athletes—in fact, SCA is the No. 1 cause of death in teen athletes—Dr. Campbell says that all active kids…

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Life in a Pandemic is Business as Usual for Heart Warriors

Sarah and Duncan learned early in her pregnancy that their twin boys would have a unique path in life. Wesley Blackwood, MD, pediatric cardiologist at Sibley Heart Center Cardiology, told them during the second trimester that one of the babies’ hearts was not forming properly. Fletcher had Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome (HLHS) with tricuspid atresia, and he would need surgery soon after birth. Five days after giving birth to the twins by C-section, Sarah and Elias joined Duncan and Fletcher at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Heart Center for Fletcher’s first life-saving surgery. The staff at Sibley went out of their way to help us, allowing Sarah to continue to breastfeed and the twins to bond,” Duncan said. “They took pictures in the ICU when we couldn’t be there. They helped us file paperwork and connected us to the Ronald McDonald house. The whole crew seemed genuinely concerned about our family.” Repair of HLHS involves three separate surgeries, and there are sometimes hiccups along the way. When Sarah returned to work at the U.S. Department of the Air Force, the couple learned that finding a daycare that would accept Fletcher and had the capacity to care for his needs was not…

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Physicians with Heart: Dr. Timotheus Watson

When studying medicine at Case Western Reserve University, Timotheus Watson, MD, thought he wanted to be a general surgeon – until a rotation in pediatrics and pediatric cardiology changed his perspective. He said he was thrilled by the technology that gave physicians the ability to diagnose both simple and complex heart disease in the tiniest of human beings. “There’s so much variety in the conditions we see and can diagnose prenatally,” Dr. Watson said. “It’s very fulfilling to be able to counsel families and let them know what’s going on with a child’s heart, even before birth, so they can be prepared. It makes an impact.” Dr. Watson has been director of the City Call Program since 2017. His team provides pediatric cardiac consultations at more than 20 hospitals in Georgia. He also practices at Sibley Heart Center Cardiology’s Marietta clinic where he provides outpatient cardiology services to patients as well as fetal echocardiology for expectant mothers to confirm or rule out any heart issues prenatally. His practice includes a preventative cardiac component to treat patients with genetic issues like high blood pressure, high cholesterol and obesity.  “I do many of my own scans at the hospitals I visit through…

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Physicians with Heart: Dr. Holly Bauser-Heaton

Holly Bauser-Heaton, MD, Sibley pediatric cardiologist, says her mom keeps a picture she drew as a little girl that showed her doing surgery on a patient. It bears a striking resemblance to the work she does now in Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Heart Center’s pediatric cath lab.  “Anytime there is a public mention of me or my work, I can tell my mom is very proud,” Dr. Bauser-Heaton said. “She tells me with tears in her eyes, ‘You’re doing exactly what you said you were going to do at 3 years old.’”  In addition to working as an interventional cardiologist in the cath lab, Dr. Bauser-Heaton runs a science lab, where she investigates the developing heart and pulmonary vasculature, producing 3-D structures to study how to treat pulmonary artery and vein disease. She said she loves the science behind vasculature and the opportunity to meet patients and families and bring it all together. What’s so fulfilling about the cath lab is that we provide information that no one else can,” Dr. Bauser-Heaton said. “We figure out the puzzle pieces and have the opportunity to work with all the departments from outpatient to ICU to surgical. We’re right in the middle…

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Early Gestational Fetal Imaging Gives Timely Insight into CHD

Conventional fetal cardiovascular imaging—fetal echocardiography—is typically done at 18 to 24 weeks of gestation, or at the end of the second trimester, allowing doctors to view the structure and function of a baby’s heart and diagnose most Congenital Heart Defects (CHDs). In recent years, however, it is now possible at even 12 to 14 weeks of gestation in certain high-risk pregnancies.  “Advances in ultrasound equipment and technology and increased operator expertise and experience has made accurate imaging of the fetal heart possible at earlier stages in pregnancy,” said Erik Michelfelder, MD, pediatric cardiologist and Director of the Fetal Cardiac Program. Advanced ultrasound technology allows for visualization of tiny heart structures only millimeters in size, as well as blood flow patterns very early in pregnancy. At 11 to 14 weeks, it is typically standard of care to perform nuchal translucency screening or maternal blood screening for fetal DNA, which can reveal genetic or chromosomal abnormalities that can be associated with higher risk of CHD. At that time, early imaging may be recommended to learn more. “Early gestational cardiovascular imaging is similar to a regular ultrasound that a pregnant mom may get at her OBGYN,” Dr. Michelfelder said. “It’s the same process…

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Mom and Heart Warrior Daughter Reflect on Life with CHD

A few weeks before her daughter’s birth, second-time mom Allison learned that her baby would be born with a serious CHD called tricuspid atresia. This defect occurs when the valve that controls blood flow from the right atrium to the right ventricle does not form, so that blood can’t properly flow to the lungs for oxygen. At a month old, Kendall received a BTT (Blaylock-Thomas-Taussig) shunt, followed by a Glenn procedure at 4 months old. She spent her second birthday and Mother’s Day that year at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Heart Center getting the final repair to her heart, the Fontan procedure.  “The team at Sibley was very loving and supportive,” Allison said. “The social worker came by to check on us often. I always knew she was in good hands. When we had to spend her birthday in the hospital, they even had a little celebration for her. They tried to turn a special day that was happening during a not-so-fun time into a memorable occasion.” Kendall, now 15, acknowledges that having a CHD can be “annoying” at times, but she said she refuses to let it hold her back. She’s a cheerleader and plays basketball, and she stresses…

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CHDs Can Show Up in Teens, the Heart Center is There to Help

Nicole had episodes of a racing heartbeat now and then during her childhood, but she didn’t know what it was or how to talk about it with her mom. When Nicole was 15, she happened to have an episode when she was at the doctor getting her annual flu shot, and she learned there was a word for what she was experiencing: Tachycardia. Tachycardia is the medical term for a heart rate over 100 beats per minute. In some cases, tachycardia may cause no symptoms or complications. But if left untreated, tachycardia can disrupt normal heart function and lead to serious, life-threatening complications. Peter Fischbach, MD, Director of Electrophysiology at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Heart Center, recommended ablation surgery for Nicole to treat her condition and restore a normal heart rhythm. “It was shocking and scary initially because surgery is a serious thing,” Nicole said. “It made me anxious, but Dr. Fischbach has a very good bedside manner. He explained the surgery, and we talked about when it would be scheduled. He related to me as a teenager with a lot going on, and he used his sense of humor to put my mind at ease. In the meantime, they…

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CHOA’s Internationally Recognized Arrhythmia Program Treats Kids with Abnormal Heart Rhythms

Children who have been diagnosed with an arrhythmia, palpitations or chest pains receive coordinated, specialized care at the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Heart Center’s arrhythmia program. It is the largest clinical program in the Southeast, caring for more than 1,000 patients with arrhythmias from before birth through adulthood. Arrhythmias, or an abnormal rhythm of the heart, may be congenital (present at birth) or they may develop later. “We take care of all forms of abnormal heartbeats, whether the heart is beating too fast, which is called tachycardia, or too slow, which is called bradycardia,” said Peter Fischbach, MD, Director of Electrophysiology at Sibley Heart Center Cardiology. “Many arrhythmias are just nuisance problems, but some can be life-threatening. We treat and manage the garden variety arrhythmias all the way to the very rare abnormalities that sometimes go along with CHD.” Children can be referred to the arrhythmia program for several different reasons. Sometimes patients complain of heart pounding or fluttering. Arrhythmia also can show up as chest pains or fainting or it can be picked up on an EKG during an evaluation for something else. Treatments can include monitoring, pharmacological therapies (medicine) or interventional catheter ablations. Arrhythmias also are sometimes treated…

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Physicians with Heart: Dr. Divya Suthar

Even as a child in India from a business family, Divya Suthar, MD, knew she wanted to be a physician. She was drawn to the sciences and pediatric cardiology in particular. “As a kid, I often saw fundraising efforts by families to pay for impactful, necessary heart surgeries, and I thought I should be doing something to help these children,” Dr. Suthar said. “Sometimes when you enter medical school, you change your mind and find yourself liking a different specialty. Somehow for me, the love for pediatric cardiology just continued to grow, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything else.”   Dr. Suthar focused on fetal cardiology because she was drawn to the challenge of diagnosing complex heart conditions before a baby’s birth. She enjoys combining the technical expertise required to understand CHDs with the rewarding aspects of reassuring a worried mom and helping children with CHDs grow and thrive. I love working with kids and being with families throughout their journey,” Dr. Suthar said. “These kids are so resilient. They tell you wonderful stories and wear their scars as badges of honor. They speak bravely about things that would normally scare most adults and just go on with life as…

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Entering the World of the Unknown, CHD Mom Advises Parents to Ask the Questions, Get Support

Looking forward to a smooth home stretch to her pregnancy, Lindsey went in for her normal 36-week ultrasound, but the results were not what she and husband Steven expected. Their son was diagnosed with Double Inlet Left Ventricle (DILV), a very rare CHD in which there is only one working pumping chamber in the heart. He was also diagnosed with and Transposition of the Great Arteries (TGA) and Coarctation of the Aorta. Lindsey was induced two weeks later, which meant there was little time to adjust to Aiden’s CHD.    At four days old, Aiden had his first heart surgery, the Norwood procedure, at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Heart Center and was in the hospital for 17 days. Not long after, he returned to the Heart Center with heart failure. Too young for the Glenn procedure, doctors treated him with medicine, in hopes to avoid the need for a heart transplant. His heart was able to recover, and he was able to have the Glenn procedure when it was time. In June 2020, he had his final surgery to correct his CHD at age 7. “Before his third surgery, he wasn’t doing too badly. His pulse ox was low, and…

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Physicians with Heart: Dr. William Border

William Border, MD, came from South Africa to the United States in 1995 to further his training in pediatrics and pediatric cardiology and gain experience in a world-class environment. He hadn’t intended to stay on but he and his wife, a nurse, enjoyed it in the U.S. and now have three American grown children. In 2008, Dr. Border became the Director of Noninvasive Cardiac Imaging at Sibley Heart Center Cardiology, and he is part of the Fetal Cardiology Program. He is mostly based at Egleston, and he also works at the Alpharetta outpatient clinic weekly. As a professor of pediatrics at Emory University School of Medicine, Dr. Border has a strong research interest in the evaluation of heart function in childhood cancer survivors and heart function during exercise. The stress echo program at Emory is one of the largest in the country.  I enjoy working with children and helping them,” Dr. Border said. “Coming from an area in the world with limited resources where there were three cardiologists for 15 million people, I enjoy the fact that Sibley offers such top quality and comprehensive cardiac care to kids across the state of Georgia.” Dr. Border says the camaraderie, teamwork and…

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8 Ways Nutrition Can Help Prevent Heart Disease

There may be some confusion when we discuss ways to prevent heart disease through nutrition. We believe we have to eat perfectly, but what really matters is paying attention and working on adding the better choices in, so the not-so-great choices slowly don’t have as much room.  This is the message that Laura Hamilton MA, RD, CSP, LD teaches our preventive patients every day. Whether you and your family have years of unhealthy eating habits or you simply want to fine-tune your family’s diet, here are eight heart-healthy habit tips.  Once you know which foods to eat more of and which foods to limit, you'll be on your way toward a heart-healthy diet. 1. Control your portion size How much you eat is just as important as what you eat, sometimes more. Overloading your plate, getting seconds and eating until you’re stuffed can lead to eating more calories than you should. Portions served in restaurants are often more than anyone needs, ESPECIALLY for our kids! Adult size portions are too big for adults, so having our kids eat the same amount is a big issue! Use a small plate or bowl to help control your portions.  Eat larger portions of…

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Sibley and Emory Partner to Ensure Patients Not ‘Lost to Care’ in Adulthood

When children who were born with congenital heart defects become teens and young adults, they may believe they no longer need to be followed by a cardiologist. However, it is recommended that these patients see a cardiologist with special training in adult congenital heart disease at least once in their lifetimes and often more, depending on their condition. It is estimated that less than 20 percent of adults born with a heart defect are still receiving the specialized care they need, a circumstance the medical community refers to as being “lost to care.” Because CHD-related issues are very different from typical adult heart problems, it is important that patients continue to be monitored by a congenital heart specialist as they enter adulthood.   There are long term issues associated with being born with congenital heart defects,” said Rusty Rodriguez, MD, pediatric and adult congenital cardiologist at Sibley Heart Center Cardiology and the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Heart Center who specializes in transitioning children with CHD to The Emory Adult Congenital Heart Center. “For example, patients can develop abnormal heart rhythms or valve issues into adulthood. They may need additional valve procedures, heart rhythm interventions and further medical management.” Becoming lost to…

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How a One-Year-Old Inspires Her Whole Family to Never Give Up

On January 6, Marliee celebrated her first birthday in the place she’s lived since she was 4 months old: Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Heart Center. On her birthday, she was allowed the precious treat of seeing her two older siblings face to face for only the second time since she was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy and congestive heart failure. Marliee, her 6-year-old brother, Rory, and 11-year-old sister, Randi, were all born in the same month, which makes for a very busy December and January for the family, according to their mom Tiauna. “We don’t combine Christmas and their birthdays,” Tiauna said. “We celebrate them each individually. It’s a lot, but they’re really good kids. They deserve it.” In fact, the entire past year has been a lot for this family. Tiauna was furloughed from her job in March due to the pandemic. In April, she and her husband Christopher noticed their newborn was having trouble feeding and breathing rapidly. They had no idea what the next nine months would have in store for them. It involved Marliee being in the hospital full-time, receiving a Berlin EXCOR left ventricular assist device (LVAD) and being listed for a heart transplant. Meanwhile, Tiauna…

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Family Thankful that Sibley Team Uses Talents to Restore the Hearts of Kids

Phillip and Nicole were thrilled to find out they would be parents. But early in the pregnancy with their first child, Nicole began showing early symptoms of a possible miscarriage. She overcame that obstacle but at 20 weeks of pregnancy, a fetal echo at Sibley Heart Center Cardiology revealed that baby Addison had Tetralogy of Fallot and an arrhythmia in which the top portion of the heart was beating three times faster than the bottom. Nicole was induced at 39 weeks, and Addison had open heart surgery at 6 days old to insert a BTT shunt (Blaylock-Thomas-Taussig shunt). At 8 months old, she had a second surgery to repair a VSD and pulmonary atresia, and the family expects one more when she’s older. “We follow up with Dr. Wallace once a year, and she has seen slight changes but nothing serious yet,” Nicole said. “If you saw Addison, you would never know what she’s been through. Her scar is very faint, but we call it her lifeline. We want her to be proud of it, and we want her to know that without it, she wouldn’t be here.” Nicole said Sibley has been a lifeline to her family as well.…

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Saying Yes to a Tiny Heart Warrior Changes Three Lives Forever

When Amy and Doni said “yes” to a meeting with a little girl with heart problems, they had no idea what kind of ride they were in for. They also didn’t know they were about to meet their daughter. The couple, who began the process to become foster parents in 2018, was contacted in the summer of 2019 about the possible placement of a baby girl in Atlanta, which is almost a three-hour drive from their home in North Georgia. They were told only that she had “some heart issues and would need extra doctor appointments.” In fact, she was born with Hypoplastic Right Heart Syndrome, a serious and rare CHD in which the right side of the heart is underdeveloped. It was unknown then whether the baby would live long enough to meet her foster parents. Amy and Doni left the day after that fateful call to meet Emmaline at CHOA, armed only with a few onesies and a loose plan to get a hotel room near the hospital afterward. They didn’t even know the name of the baby with “heart problems” they were coming to see. When they finally entered her room, they took in the sight of…

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Child Life Specialists Help Heart Warriors, Families Cope with Illness

The main goal of a Child Life Specialist at Sibley Heart Center Cardiology is to help kids cope with the sometimes overwhelming stressors that come with hospitalization. At Sibley, the care Child Life Specialists provide is family-centered, which means they focus on the whole family including siblings. Adrianna Roig, Certified Child Life Specialist II, has worked at CHOA since 2017. She spends a good bit of time helping parents talk to their children about CHD and what is happening in their or in their siblings’ bodies. “Adults often have a difficult time talking about hard things and assume their kids can’t handle hearing hard things. We tend to either oversimplify and not give enough details or we give too many details, and it becomes overwhelming,” Adrianna said. “The bottom line is that kids, just like adults, do better with anticipated stress than unanticipated stress.” Depending on the age of the patient and siblings, Child Life Specialists will sit down with parents to answer questions and provide resources that outline developmentally appropriate ways to talk to kids. They also can be present during conversations if parents need extra help. Our ultimate goal is to empower parents to know that they can…

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Heart Warrior’s Family Has Michael’s Back

Ashley and Chris had two children already when their twins were born 10 years ago. Although the pregnancy was high risk from the beginning, as is typical with multiples, they received a big shock when the babies were three days old, and they learned they both had CHDs. Madison’s would resolve by her first birthday, but Michael was in congestive heart failure, and he was diagnosed with Tetralogy of Fallot. “I shut down when I heard he was in heart failure and would need open heart surgery. I just went numb and quit listening,” Ashley said. “Luckily, my husband started writing questions and answers on a pad of paper. He cried on the way home, and I’d never seen him cry. It took two or three years to get over the guilt that I did something wrong, even though they told me from the beginning it wasn’t anything I did.” In his first months of life, Michael required a heart catherization and needed emergency heart surgery to ensure his body received enough oxygen. In order to restore his oxygen levels to normal, he underwent a surgery to repair his heart condition at five months of age. He had another surgery…

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Physicians with Heart: Dr. Robert Campbell

As a medical student at Emory University, Robert Campbell, MD, says he knew early on that he was not going to med school to take care of chronically ill adults. As a teenager growing up in Knoxville, TN, he was drawn to the topics of sports, fitness and health and wellness. In his fourth year of medical school, Dr. Bill Plauth, the head of pediatric cardiology at Emory, allowed Dr. Campbell to go on rounds with him at Grady Hospital. From there, his career path working with kids and teens with CHD was set. After stints at University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s and Vanderbilt University, Dr. Campbell was contacted separately by two doctors in private practice inviting him to join them in Atlanta. Knowing that he wanted to return to the South, Dr. Campbell agreed and suggested that the three of them start a pediatric cardiac private practice together. “It was a case of the right people, the right place and the right time,” he said. “Pediatric cardiology private practice was not really a thing at the time, but I believe we were destined to be here at that moment. We were all committed to working hard and delivering…

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Physicians with Heart: Dr. James Nelson

For Tony Nelson, MD, returning to Atlanta, where he spent a good bit of his youth, to work at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Heart Center seemed like a pipe dream. He’d always heard that when pediatric cardiologists landed a position there, they rarely left. But in 2019, fresh from a fellowship at Seattle Children’s Hospital, he was offered just such a position at Sibley Heart Center Cardiology. “I was ecstatic,” Dr. Nelson said. “The relationships I’ve formed with others in the practice and with the staff make Sibley stand out as an excellent place to work.” Dr. Nelson was first inspired to pursue pediatric cardiology when he heard a lecture from his professor and one of his mentors at Duke University about fetal heart circulation. Dr. Armstrong, the third black female pediatric cardiologist in the country, gave the lecture that made him fall in love with cardiology and influenced his future career path. “It was remarkable to me at the time to learn how everything worked in concert in the heart to allow blood to flow through it, and then the abrupt shift that happens after birth,” Dr. Nelson said. Dr. Nelson said his colleagues at Sibley all exhibit not…

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Sibley Team Takes Care of the Caregivers When Treating CHD

When Mary Helen and Fisher learned about their son’s CHD prenatally, they were given a range of possibilities to consider including that his coarctation of the aorta could be minor all the way to the need for immediate open-heart surgery. But they wouldn’t know for sure until Will was born. “The hardest thing was knowing, but not knowing,” Fisher said. “It was the most scared I’ve ever been.” They met with cardiologists at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta’s Heart Center and selected a surgeon, Paul Chai, MD, before Will’s birth. Everything was in place when he was born, and he had surgery to correct his CHD at four days old. With Mary Helen still recovering from a C-section and Covid-19 protocols, Fisher stayed alone with Will for the days leading up to surgery. “Everyone at the Heart Center was accommodating and reassuring, and they were willing to answer all my questions,” Fisher said. “With Mary Helen still recuperating at the hospital and another young child at home, I felt so guilty for any time I had to leave Will’s side, but the nurses made me feel comfortable leaving him in their care. They cared about our well-being as much as Will’s…

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Sonographers Provide Insight to the Heart

A Sibley sonographer takes specialized pictures of a child’s heart – known as a cardiac ultrasound or echocardiogram – which are made using sound waves. The echocardiogram provides clear images of the structures of the heart that can reveal the cause of extra heart sounds or problems with connections and blood flow. “With children, we cannot assume that the child’s heart structure is normal. We take multiple images to assess the anatomy and function of the heart,” said Laurie Clark, Manager of Clinical Operations – Sonography, at Sibley Heart Center Cardiology. “We’re assessing patients with chest pain or fainting episodes and for murmurs that doctors have heard.” Sibley sonographers also follow kids with congenital heart disease (CHD). They perform echocardiograms to monitor patients who have had a surgical repair on their hearts or to determine if they will need intervention in the future. The frequency of visits depends on the complexity of the defect. The main thing for parents to know about an echocardiogram is that it doesn’t hurt. However, because most kids have experienced being immunized at other physicians’ offices, they can be anxious when getting this test. The sonographer sometimes needs a parent’s help to calm and quiet…

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Treatments for d-TGA Provide Excellent Outcomes for a Life-Threatening CHD

Transposition of the great vessels (d-TGA) is a congenital heart defect where the aorta and pulmonary artery are switched or “transposed” resulting in inadequate delivery of oxygen to the vital organs and is one of the congenital heart diseases that results in a so called “blue baby.” In the normal circulation, the deoxygenated (oxygen-deficient blood) returns to the right side of the heart that pumps blood to the lungs via the pulmonary artery. The oxygenated blood from the lungs is returned to the left side of the heart that pumps the oxygenated blood to the rest of the body. When the aorta and pulmonary artery are switched (transposed), the deoxygenated blood from the body enters the right side of the heart and instead of going to the lungs via the pulmonary artery, goes directly to the back to the rest of the body via the aorta resulting in an extreme lack of oxygen delivery to the vital organs. At the same time, the oxygen rich blood from the lungs that enters the left side of the heart is pumped directly back to the lungs. D-TGA can often be diagnosed during pregnancy through a fetal echocardiogram. It’s important to determine the…

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Physicians with Heart: Michelle Wallace, MD

Sibley pediatric cardiologist Michelle Wallace, MD, said she loves the anatomy and constantly furthering her knowledge of how to best care for patients with CHD. But what really keeps her going each day are the patient and family relationships she has gained as a doctor at Sibley for the past 10 years. "I’m so fortunate to have long-term patients whose families have entrusted me with their care since they were in the womb,” Dr. Wallace said. “You sometimes don’t realize how you’ve impacted someone until later, especially as they go through really tough experiences.” Being part of a team that provides the highest level of both primary and specialty care all in one place, gives Dr. Wallace an enduring sense of satisfaction. CHOA is dedicated to improving the quality of life of patients not just in Atlanta, but across the state, and she said her colleagues are outstanding in several ways. They’re not just smart people, brilliant people, but they are dedicated and kind people,” Dr. Wallace said. “They, of course, know how to deal with a range of complex diseases, but they are also focused on making a family’s experience as good as it can be, from their first…

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Physicians with Heart: Dr. Brandon Harden

Brandon Harden, MD, says becoming a physician is the only career he can remember wanting to pursue in his life. His mom, a teacher, and dad, a pharmacist, encouraged him to become a doctor. His hometown of Rincon, outside of Savannah, had no pediatrician, and when he started his pre-med program at the University of Georgia, Dr. Harden envisioned filling that role someday and set it as his goal. In his third year of medical school, Dr. Harden was exposed to pediatric cardiology and fell in love with the specialty. As he was finishing his training in Washington, DC, he accepted the job where he’s been for seven years now at Sibley Heart Center Cardiology in the Athens clinic. His position gives him the satisfaction of working for a program with an excellent local and national reputation while maintaining the small-town feel he aspired to. I chose pediatrics because I’m drawn to kids, and I’ve always enjoyed interacting with them from the time they’re babies all the way to becoming college students,” Dr. Harden said. “I like establishing that bond with a family and watching their child grow and thrive at every stage of life. It brings me joy, makes…

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Genetics Team Looks for Clues to Ensure the Best Care for CHD

Because it is possible to identify an underlying genetic cause in up to a quarter of children with CHD, the Genetics team at Sibley Heart Center Cardiology is dedicated to identifying and monitoring these conditions in children and providing educational support and guidance for families. Stephanie Burns Wechsler, MD, is a Sibley pediatric cardiologist who is also board certified and trained in medical genetics. She splits her time between the Cardiac Acute Care Unit at Egleston, Sibley outpatient clinics and Emory University Hospital.  She is an attending physician at the Aorta and Vascular program at Sibley. Genetic connective tissue conditions like Marfan Syndrome, and chromosomal diseases, like Turner syndrome, which can be associated with an enlargement of the aorta, are addressed in that clinic. But even structural congenital heart disease can have a genetic component. “We are involved at the beginning of a family’s journey of learning their child has a particular genetic syndrome,” Dr. Wechsler said. “We’re here to help families understand the condition and sometimes to arrange testing and genetic counseling for other members of the family.” Questions that parents typically ask include, “Where did this come from? What about my other children? What do we need to…

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Physicians with Heart: Dr. Glen Iannucci

Sometimes all roads lead back to the heart -- at least that’s how it has worked for Sibley pediatric cardiologist Glen Iannucci, MD. He was inspired to go into medicine after being treated at Scottish Rite as a 15-year-old involved in a car accident. He chose pediatrics because he enjoys the opportunity to head off disease processes before they gain momentum in adulthood, and his undergraduate training in civil engineering and fluid dynamics at Georgia Tech influences his work today as a physician in Sibley Heart Center’s Aorta and Vascular Disease Clinic. It all comes together in Dr. Iannucci. “I was drawn to pediatric cardiology based on an experience in medical school during an adult cardiology rotation,” Dr. Iannucci said. “I was trying to understand how and why a patient’s blood had been rerouted in significant ways, and I spoke with the pediatric cardiologist who explained the reasons for all the surgeries. I found it fascinating.” Dr. Iannucci developed an interest in the Aorta and Vascular Program when he worked with Denver Sallee, MD, as a fellow and in his early years of training. The program follows children and young adults with blood vessel diseases, which can involve blood vessels…

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He Was Born to Do This

When Sibley Heart Center Cardiology contact center manager Kim Cordum saw a story in 2011 about Casper, Children's Healthcare of Atlanta’s first full-time hospital therapy dog, and his incredible impact on a young patient, she thought he sounded a lot like her young Golden Retriever, Cooper. Always sweet and loving and never hyper, Cooper was already well trained at 18 months old. Kim decided to investigate having her dog certified as a therapy dog. She took Cooper to Happy Tails Pet Therapy, where he was tested on skills like remaining calm when approached by strangers or strange dogs or hearing loud noises. The final test was to sit and stay in a big, empty warehouse while Kim left his sight for several minutes. He passed with flying colors and became one of the youngest dogs to complete the program. Kim began signing him up for “jobs.” One of our first assignments was at Peachford Hospital, where we visited once a week and hung out with the kids and a team of dogs from Happy Tails,” Kim said. “The first time we went, it was so rewarding, and I thought maybe this dog was born to do this. He let the…

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Physicians with Heart: Dr. Shannon Jones

Because of her special connection with kids, Shannon Jones, MD, always knew she wanted to practice pediatric medicine. Her love of pediatric cardiology, however, developed during her residency training. “After seeing all the different sub-specialties as part of my residency training, I fell in love with pediatric cardiology,” Dr. Jones said. “I love the physiology of it and the wide variety of patients we get to treat.” Returning to the warm weather and family in the South made Emory a perfect fit after residency for her fellowship training. She then had the opportunity to stay on with Sibley Heart Center Cardiology as an attending physician after completing her fellowship. Dr. Jones wears a number of different hats at Sibley, and she sees patients in several different settings including the Hamilton Mill clinic, the in-patient setting in the Children's Heart Center, Cardiac Acute Care Unit (CACU), and as part of a city call team that provides consults to metro Atlanta hospitals. Dr. Jones says she enjoys helping to treat a variety of heart conditions in children and adolescents. Since she’s now been with Sibley for two years, it’s particularly meaningful to have had the benefit of seeing patients beginning with their…

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Playing Well: Humorologists Bring Joy and Laughter to Sibley Patients

Being in the hospital isn’t easy for kids. In addition to not feeling well physically, they can often feel emotionally stressed and powerless. The clowns from Humorology Atlanta aim to add levity to the room with their artistry and love of fun. “When we visit a patient, they lead us,” said Maia Knispel (Dr. Meme), program director. “They get to be in charge and the focus of all the attention. They don’t get to say ‘no’ to a lot people, especially when they’re in the hospital, but when we visit, they’re in charge and they get to boss us around.” Humorology Atlanta was born from the Big Apple Circus, which began bringing clowns into medical institutions in the 1990s. When Big Apple closed down in 2016, Knispel partnered with other Atlanta artists to launch the nonprofit that now serves area pediatric hospitals, senior communities and workplaces. The HA! “Clown Doctors” use music, dance, circus arts, mime, magic, improvisation and the art of clowning to spread laughter and provide focus, distraction, fun, motivation, celebration, relaxation and relief. The clowns always work in pairs and take time to connect with the staff ahead of visiting patients on the floor to discover if…

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What Sounds Does a Cardiologist Hear Through a Stethoscope?

While a percentage of patients who see a pediatric cardiologist at Sibley Heart Center Cardiology are coming because of complex issues, our doctors and nurses also care for many patients who are coming because of chest pain, heart palpitations or other issues but are never admitted to the hospital. Something they all have in common is that they will be evaluated with a stethoscope. What are doctors listening for when they place a stethoscope on a patient’s chest? A stethoscope is not terribly different from a blood pressure cuff, an echo machine or a pulse oximeter,” said Robert Campbell, MD, Sibley pediatric cardiologist. “It’s simply another tool we use to gather information about the patient.” A stethoscope allows a physician to auscultate, or listen to, five types of sounds or noises generated by the heart and blood flowing through it: Heart sounds. These are simply the sound of the valves of the heart closing. A normal heart has four valves – two sets of two – that are flexible and strong, similar to plastic wrap. The valves open silently, but close with a sound like a door shutting. Sounds that differ from regular heart sounds could indicate an abnormality in…

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The Amazing Heart and How it Works

When a child is diagnosed with CHD, their Sibley pediatric cardiologist is often called on to explain how the heart works so parents can better understand their child’s condition. Most of us never think twice about the function of this important organ, taking for granted how it works – day in and day out – to keep us alive and healthy. But when something goes wrong, it becomes essential information, and Sibley doctors are excellent teachers. The single purpose of this fist-sized muscle is to pump oxygen and nutrient-rich blood throughout our bodies, beating 100,000 times per day and pumping about 2,000 gallons per day. It is a vital part of a person’s cardiovascular system, which includes all the blood vessels that carry blood from the heart to the body’s tissues and back again. The heart has four chambers separated by a wall of tissue called the septum and aided by four heart valves (tricuspid, pulmonic, mitral and aortic) that open and close with flaps, allowing blood to flow in only one direction. The two upper chambers of the heart are the atria, which receive incoming blood from the body. The right atrium receives deoxygenated blue blood from the body,…

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Pulmonary Vein Stenosis (PVS) Requires Ongoing Intervention and Maintenance

Pulmonary vein stenosis (PVS) is cardiovascular condition in which oxygenated blood from the lungs cannot easily return to the left side of the heart to be pumped out into the body. The right side of the heart begins to struggle to pump blood into the lungs and the lungs become congested, which can lead children with PVS to experience heart failure. PVS, which is a progressive disease, is life-threatening if left untreated. PVS affects mostly infants born prematurely. It may develop in the neonatal ICU shortly after birth or may be detected when babies are laboring to breathe or failing to gain weight. “This is a rare disease that we are just beginning to understand better,” said Christopher Petit, MD, pediatric cardiologist and leader of the Children’s PVS Program team. “Who will get it and why are still poorly understood.” PVS is a disease of inflammation that begins in the immature air spaces of a premature baby’s lungs, causing a narrowing of the pulmonary veins. The inflammation process can also be kicked off post-surgically after a patient is placed on a breathing machine. When infants develop PVS, it is often seen in only one of four to five veins of…

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HLHS Treated with Three Surgeries to Redesign the Heart

Hypoplastic left heart syndrome (HLHS) is a birth defect that affects normal blood flow through the heart. As the baby develops during pregnancy, the left side of the heart does not develop and grow appropriately. Hypoplastic left heart syndrome is one type of congenital heart defect. Congenital means present at birth. Because a baby with this defect needs surgery or other procedures soon after birth, HLHS is considered a critical congenital heart defect (CCHD). In hypoplastic left heart syndrome, the poor growth of the left-sided heart structures results in the following: The left ventricle is underdeveloped and too small. The mitral valve is not formed or is very small. The aortic valve is not formed or is very small. The initial part of the aorta is underdeveloped or is too small. Often, babies with hypoplastic left heart syndrome also have an atrial septal defect, which is a hole between the left and right upper chambers (atria) of the heart. In a baby without a congenital heart defect, the right side of the heart pumps oxygen-poor blood from the heart to the lungs. The left side of the heart pumps oxygen-rich blood to the rest of the body. When a baby…

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Sibley Doctors Use Telemedicine to Stay Connected to Patients During COVID-19

As we address a new “normal” in the midst of COVID-19, medical professionals all over the country are continuing to implement creative measures to stay in touch with patients and provide the high quality, excellent care they are accustomed to. Denver Sallee, III, MD, Pediatric Cardiologist and Chief Financial Officer at Sibley Heart Center Cardiology, describes telemedicine as a new generation component of the broader category of “telehealth.” Telemedicine employs audio plus video to establish a two-way appointment with a healthcare provider to get clinical care. Dr. Sallee envisions using lessons learned from telehealth during COVID-19 to provide highly specialized cardiac care following the pandemic to children throughout Georgia through the Aorta and Vascular Program, the Syncope Clinic and the Arrhythmia Clinic. Telemedicine would allow patients to have cardiac testing done in local clinics, and then complete their visits with a Sibley pediatric cardiologist via a virtual telemedicine visit, reducing the need to travel long distances for follow-up appointments. With the pandemic, a lot of sub-specialty and primary care visits are now being conducted virtually,” Dr. Sallee said. “As people become more comfortable with this method of patient care, it will help the technology take off, and I think it…

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Dedicated Sibley Cardiomyopathy Program Treats and Manages Complex Heart Muscle Disease

Cardiomyopathy is a broad term that refers to a disease of the heart muscle that impairs its ability to pump blood effectively. Some cases are acquired, such as those resulting from a viral infection or certain medications, and others can be genetic. Cardiomyopathy can be seen in isolation or as a part of Congenital Heart Disease (CHD). The Children’s Cardiomyopathy Foundation reports that one child out of 100,000 is diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, and that for every diagnosed child, there is likely another undiagnosed child at risk of premature death. Up to 67 percent of cases have no known cause. Different kinds of cardiomyopathy cause the heart muscle to enlarge, thicken or become stiff, and the disease can lead to irregular heart rhythms or heart failure. Robert Campbell, MD, pediatric cardiologist at Sibley Heart Center Cardiology, said there are five classifications of cardiomyopathy that doctors may encounter in patients sent to the Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy Program at Sibley Heart Center Cardiology. Dilated cardiomyopathy This is the most common form of cardiomyopathy in which the heart muscle becomes enlarged and stretched, causing the heart to become weak and pump inefficiently. Problems that can occur include irregular heart rhythms, risk of blood clots, heart failure and leaky mitral valve.…

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Atlanta’s Ronald McDonald House Provides Respite and Community for Heart Warrior Families

Being in the hospital with a child with Congenital Heart Defects (CHD) is stressful enough, but what if you live an hour (or several states) away? How do you navigate finding the basic necessities of a place to stay, meals and transportation to and from the hospital, all while being far from your family and support system? For many families of CHD kids who live a distance from Atlanta, this is a reality they must face. Atlanta Ronald McDonald House Charities exist to make it a little easier. The Atlanta chapter of Ronald McDonald House Charities was started in 1979 with an eight-room home near Egleston. They now offer 81 guest rooms for families seeking medical care in Atlanta for their children, from newborn to age 21. And the cost to families? Free. We are an integral part of family-centered care,” said Beth Howell, President and CEO of Atlanta Ronald McDonald House Charities. “Every family wants their child to be supported and not alone while they’re in the hospital. We know that if you reduce the stress on a family, you reduce the stress on the child, which gives them their best chance to heal. It’s very important to provide…

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Learn Ways to Protect Your CHD Child – COVID 19 FAQ

Thank you for interest in learning about what you can do to protect children with CHD during this time. We share your concerns, and we are committed to ensuring the health of our patients. What is known and not known about how this virus affects children with congenital heart disease? Fortunately, children are typically not as severely as affected as adults when infected with COVID-19. Thus far, children have represented a tiny fraction of the confirmed cases in Georgia, with no known deaths among children. However, among adults, especially older adults, we do know that those with cardiovascular disease have a more severe case of COVID-19 when they are infected. Unfortunately, there is very limited data specifically related to children or adults with congenital heart disease. As such, the CDC at the current time is considering CHD as a condition that may increase the risk of severe infection. What can I do at home? The best way to stay healthy is to prevent infection as much as possible. Washing hands, practicing social distancing, minimizing touching your face, and staying at home as much as possible are all good practices at the current time, especially for families with a child with…

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Physicians with Heart: Dr. Robert Whitehill

When Robert Whitehill, MD, was in medical school, he intended to go into his third-year rotations, where physicians typically choose their specialties, with a totally open mind. However, his first rotation was in pediatric cardiac service, and on his very first day, he watched a doctor close an ASD. It was a routine for procedure for him, but it made a massive difference in the life of a little girl who was not able to keep up with her friends before that surgery,” Dr. Whitehill said. “I fell in love with the specialty right out of the gate, and that rotation became the standard against what I judged everything else. So much for staying open minded!” Dr. Whitehill is now an electrophysiologist in the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta’s Arrhythmia Program. Electrophysiology is a highly specialized field of study within cardiology that deals with pediatric heart rhythm disorders and the electric system of the heart. He focuses on inherited heart disease and device implantation. “During my fellowship, I had a couple of patients who were previously healthy and experienced cardiac arrest due to certain arrhythmias,” Dr. Whitehill said. “We were able to fix the problems, and they went on to live…

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Returning to Practice in His Hometown Gives this Pediatric Cardiologist all the Feels

When Andrew Dodgen was growing up in Columbus, he never thought of the area as “underserved.” But since returning to his hometown with his wife and two young children to work with Sibley Heart Center Cardiology, he has realized that, at least in terms of pediatric specialty services, the area is in desperate need. He is currently the only pediatric cardiologist in Columbus. Dr. Dodgen was born in Macon and raised in Columbus since the age of 3. He met his wife at LaGrange College, and they went to medical school together at Mercer University, both choosing to become pediatricians. “We always had the goal to get back home to Georgia, not only to be close to family, but to live out the Mercer mission of providing primary care and specialty services for underserved populations in the state,” Dr. Dodgen said. “Though we have had the opportunity work at amazing hospitals with incredible people, we always hoped to take advantage of any openings at Sibley. In July, we got one, and it’s everything we hoped for and more.” Dr. Dodgen spends the bulk of his time in outpatient pediatric cardiology clinic with an emphasis on congenital heart disease and general…

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Echocardiograms Help Doctors Provide the Best Care to Young CHD Patients

There are four types of echocardiograms that can be used as diagnostic or pre- and post-surgery quality control tools for children with Congenital Heart Disease (CHD). All are painless to the patient and provide detailed looks at the heart and its functioning. The most common type of echocardiogram is a transthoracic echo (TTE). In a TTE, sound waves are sent through a handheld device placed on a child’s chest to show the structure and function of the heart on a monitor. A TTE requires that patients lie quietly on their sides for up to 40 minutes, depending on the complexity of the diagnosis. There is no pain involved, but small children may be afraid or unable to lie still for that long. While distraction techniques usually work well, children may need light sedation to allow the sonographer to capture the best pictures. “Patients are sent to us for a TTE before heart surgery to review all segments of the heart and its vessels,” said William Border, MD, Director of Noninvasive Cardiac Imaging at Children’s Heart Center.  “Often there’s more than one issue going on in the heart, and we must capture every little detail to help surgeons determine what type…

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Children’s Muscular Dystrophy Clinic Offers Multidisciplinary Approach

Muscular Dystrophy, a group of diseases that cause progressive weakness and loss of muscle mass, is caused by genetic mutations that affect the proteins needed to form healthy muscle. Because the heart is a muscle, MD can cause enlargement and scarring of the heart and compromise the “squeeze” of the heart muscle. In addition to affecting heart function, MD can also affect heart rhythm. Symptoms of the most common variety of MD begin in childhood and are mostly seen in boys, given the way it is passed down through families. Other types can surface later in adolescence or adulthood. While there is no cure for MD, it can be treated with medications and therapies designed to minimize symptoms and slow its course. Some patients may become candidates for heart transplants. Meghann G. McKane, MD, is a cardiologist in the multidisciplinary Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) Clinic, which provides comprehensive diagnostic and treatment services for children with neuromuscular disorders. Because the symptoms of MD vary among patients and all the organ systems of the body work together, the MDA clinic offers families the benefit of stacked appointments, so they don’t need to travel widely for optimal care. “The clinic includes specialists in…

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Children’s Pediatric Heart Transplant Program First and Only in Georgia

With an average of 16 heart transplants performed each year, the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Heart Transplant Program is part of an elite network of programs in the world that perform more than 10 transplants per year. It is the only pediatric heart transplant program in Georgia. The program began in 1988 and is now led by Kirk Kanter, MD, Surgical Director, and Chad Mao, MD, Medical Director. The Advanced Cardiac Therapies program, which includes Children's Heart Transplant team, cares for infants, children and young adults before, during and after pediatric heart transplantation. The Advanced Cardiac Therapies program also includes the Ventricular Assist Device (VAD) program, which uses surgically placed mechanical pumps to support heart function and blood flow in people with weakened hearts. There are two broad categories that can indicate the need for a transplant: cardiomyopathy, which consists of heart muscle disorders, and congenital heart disease (CHD), which features anatomical or structural abnormalities of the heart. Most cases will not be severe enough to require a transplant, but if a child’s condition is no longer amenable to surgeries or medication, he or she may be evaluated for placement on the heart transplant list. Patients are referred to our…

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What Procedures Take Place in the Cath Lab?

Nathan was diagnosed at age 6 with a left pulmonary artery that wasn’t connected properly. Doctors proposed placing a stent through the pediatric cardiac cath lab to open his left artery, which was about a fourth of the size it should have been. The hope was that by placing a stent and allowing blood to flow through, the artery would grow large enough for doctors to surgically connect his artery correctly in the future. The procedure was successful, saving Nathan from additional open heart surgery, and doctors reconstructed the pulmonary artery to connect successfully two years later. Dennis Kim, MD, PhD, is director of the Pediatric Cardiac Catheterization Laboratories at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Heart Center, where four cardiologists who specialize in catheter-based cardiac procedures diagnose and treat children with congenital heart disease. Children’s Heart Center has one of the busiest pediatric cath labs in the country, with the ability to provide the entire spectrum of therapeutic options. In addition, they are part of several device trials for new innovative devices coming onto the market. Cardiac catheterization is a procedure where a long thin tube called a catheter is inserted in an artery or vein in the patient´s groin, neck…

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Fetal Echo Reveals the Structure, Function of Baby’s Heart

Fetal echocardiography uses an ultrasound probe to generate sound-based images of a baby’s heart, allowing doctors to better view its structure and function before birth. The majority of Congenital Heart Defects (CHD) can be diagnosed with fetal echo, with some exceptions. Some problems, such as very small holes in the heart, are difficult to detect even with advanced equipment. The most common reason a pregnant woman visits Sibley Heart Center Cardiology for a fetal echo is upon referral from her obstetrician or perinatologist. They may detect something unusual on a routine ultrasound and suspect a problem with the heart,” said Erik Michelfelder, MD, Director of Fetal Cardiology at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Heart Center. “They will then send the mom to us to confirm their findings and make a detailed diagnosis.” Other maternal indications that can prompt a referral for a fetal echo include a family history of heart disease, especially if either mother, father or a prior child has a diagnosis of CHD. If the mother is on medication that has the potential to cause birth defects, or if she has certain autoimmune diseases or diabetes, a fetal echo may be performed. Sibley cardiologists are also asked to evaluate…

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Feed the Heart Allows Families to Focus on Caring for Their Children Instead of ‘What’s for Dinner?”

In 2015, Vicki Haug was a nurse at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. One of her cardiac patients belonged to a family of seven, who was traveling back and forth to Egleston from Augusta as their young daughter waited for a heart transplant in the hospital. Weeks had turned into months, and one evening, the family confided to her that they didn’t have anything for their dad to eat. Vicki’s sister was in treatment for cancer, and she knew well how expensive it was to eat at the hospital for days and weeks on end. Her heart went out to them. Vicki wrote a proposal for the Cardiac Family Advisory Council requesting that the group provide a snack cart once a day and dinner once a month for cardiac patient families. The Director of Cardiac Services encouraged her to “give it a shot,” and her supervisor, Becky Johnson, helped Vicki acquire a cart and find space at Egleston. With a generous initial donation from a Sibley cardiologist and the enthusiastic participation of cardiac families who were eager to help each other, Feed the Heart was born. “It costs about $20 a day for one parent to eat here,” Vicki said. “They…

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Understanding the Heart-Brain Connection Leads to Better Patient Care

While the heart-brain connection is not completely understood in medical circles, doctors do know that the connection exists. They develop at the same time in utero, and the heart provides critical blood flow to the brain. When the heart is compromised, it may be unable to adequately meet the blood flow demands of the brain, putting a child at risk for motor and language delays, learning difficulties, attention problems and social challenges. “Babies can be born with smaller brains or a neurological injury like stroke or cardiac arrest or any temporary stop blood flow to brain can cause developmental delays and challenges later in life,” said Nneka Morris Alexander, PhD, pediatric psychologist for cardiac services, Department of Neuropsychology. “In addition, kids who have surgery within their first few months of life may be at higher risk of having developmental delays.” Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta’s Cardiac Neurodevelopmental Program provides critical mental health support to cardiac patients and families, as these patients are typically hospitalized for long periods of time. Dr. Alexander oversees inpatient screening and treatment of medically related trauma and stress in patients and families. She also conducts outpatient screenings of developmental skills for infants and toddlers with congenital heart…

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Preventing Sudden Cardiac Death Requires a Two-Pronged Approach

In a nutshell, Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) means a person ceases to have an effective heartbeat. While a heart attack is a “plumbing” problem more common to adults, an SCA in pediatric or young adult patients is more likely to be “electrical.” Most people don’t think of kids as having heart problems at all, but there is a long list of pediatric cardiac disorders that could lead to SCA. Most are very rare, and some are inherited. Once diagnosed, any of these cardiac conditions should be closely monitored to prevent SCA. "When a child has SCA, it’s common that people will describe the child as having been perfectly healthy,” said Robert Campbell, MD, pediatric cardiologist at Sibley Heart Center Cardiology. “However, they were not perfectly healthy, just undiagnosed.” Real life examples of this would be Ella, who had SCA during a basketball game, and Claire, who experienced cardiac arrest during a volleyball game. You can watch Claire's story here. Dr. Campbell said the incidence of pediatric/young adult sudden cardiac death is not known but is estimated to be about 1-4,000 per year in the U.S. Not all cases of SCA result in death because people are resuscitated or the SCA…

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Hypertension in Kids Often Treated by Lifestyle Changes

The Children’s Preventive Cardiology Program provides services for kids with conditions that put them at risk for early heart attack and stroke. When risk factors such as obesity, high cholesterol, diabetes and hypertension are properly treated, often with just a healthy diet and exercise, early cardiovascular disease may be prevented. One of the risk factors of early cardiovascular disease is hypertension or elevated blood pressure. Hypertension describes the force of the blood pushing against the artery walls. What is considered elevated blood pressure in children varies based on age and height. When a child reaches age 13, adult data is used, and blood pressures of 120/80 are considered elevated. “Hypertension in kids older than three frequently displays no signs or symptoms,” said Michelle Wallace, MD, pediatric cardiologist at Sibley Heart Center Cardiology. “Sometimes they can have frequent headaches or bloody noses. Some kids have white coat syndrome, where their blood pressure is only elevated in the doctor’s office.” While hypertension can be connected to conditions like obesity, kidney disease, an endocrine or heart problem, such as narrowing of the aorta, in most cases doctors don’t have a good cause for hypertension in children. Hypertension can cause increased thickness of the…

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