Hope for Children with Heart Problems

According to the American Heart Association, one out of every 100 infants born in the United States has a congenital heart defect. "Parents are quite surprised when they learn how common congenital heart defects are," RMHC Pediatric Cardiothoracic Surgeon Steven Leonard, MD said.

Although congenital heart defects are the most common birth defect, many are relatively minor and can be resolved on their own. Others can be severe, even threatening the life of a newborn.

Congenital Heart Defects

Congential heart defects are structural problems with the heart that are present at birth. They form when a mishap occurs during heart development soon after conception. Defects can range in severity from simple problems such as holes between chambers of the heart to very severe malformations such as the absence of one or more chambers or valves.

Causes of Congenital Heart Defects

Most congenital heart defects have no known cause. Mothers often wonder if something they did during pregnancy caused the heart problem. In most cases, nothing can be attributed to the heart defect. Some heart diseases seen in children are also present in other family members, which may point to genetics. Other heart problems can occur if the mother had a disease while pregnant and was taking medications, such as anti-seizure medications. However, in 85 to 90 percent of the cases, there is no identifiable reason to explain why the heart defect occurred.

Possible Signs

Severe heart disease generally becomes evident during the first few months after birth. Some babies are blue or have very low blood pressure shortly after birth. Other defects cause breathing difficulties, feeding problems or poor weight gain. Minor defects, which rarely cause symptoms, are most often diagnosed during a routine medical checkup. While most heart murmurs in children are normal, somemay be caused by defects.

Comprehensive Treatment

Dr. Steve Leonard leads Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children's highly trained team in delivering comprehensive cardiothoracic surgical care for all children — from neonates to young adults — throughout the Rocky Mountain region, including Colorado, Wyoming, Montana and Nebraska.

According to David Miller, MD, a pediatric cardiologist at Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children, "Technology has significantly improved and revolutionized pediatric cardiology. Most people remember the days of open-heart surgery resulting in a large chest scar and many weeks of recovery. Now, thanks to technology, catheter-based procedures are used, resulting in the same level of success with tiny incisions and much less recovery time. In fact, many patients go home the same day."

"Diagnostic imaging has played a major role in the advancement of pediatric care," says Miller. "Because of the advances in imaging, many times we can find the source of the problem before the baby is born. The sophisticated three-dimensional imaging helps us make real-time decisions, which can lead to improved outcomes."

However, some patients — even newborns — may need more invasive care. In these cases, Dr. Miller, or one of his associates from Rocky Mountain Pediatric Cardiology, works with Dr. Leonard to collaborate on the diagnosis and plan for procedures and treatments to achieve the best possible result.

"In addition to the diagnostic imaging, it is critical for a pediatric heart program to have the resources available for those patients who may need additional lung and heart help. Our ECMO (extra-corporeal membrane oxygenation) systems provide this temporary cardiac and pulmonary support," adds Leonard.

Family-Centered Care at Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children

We understand that when a child is ill, the entire family is affected. Our responsibility in providing care is not only to the child but also to the parents, siblings, grandparents and anyone closely involved in the patient’s care. "Keeping all lines of communication open between the family and physicians is the foundation for success," says Leonard.

Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children at Presbyterian/St. Luke’s Medical Center is the ideal environment for expecting parents to deliver their baby. Expert-level perinatologists, neonatologists, pediatric cardiologists and pediatric cardiovascular surgeons, along with a pediatric ICU, are located in one facility — ready to provide you and your family with the comprehensive, quality care you need and deserve.

To learn more about pediatric heart care at Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children or to schedule a consultation, please call Rocky Mountain Pediatric Cardiology at (303) 860-9933 or Rocky Mountain Pediatric Heart Surgery at (720) 457-8790.