New Diagnosis – Fetal Echo

More often now, than a generation ago, babies born with CHD are being diagnosed prenatally. This week, Dr. Sheetal Patel, from Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago and Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, explains the role prenatal echocardiography plays in diagnosing CHD and the benefit of that early diagnosis.   

 

 

Congenital Heart defects (CHDs) are among the most common birth defects, affecting 1 out of every 110 babies born. Each year nearly 40,000 babies are born in the United States with CHD, ranging from simple lesions that may not need any interventions to complex CHDs that can be fatal if appropriate treatment is not provided soon after birth. Research shows that prenatal diagnosis and early detection of these complex CHDs is associated with improved surgical outcomes. With improvement in diagnostic technology with Fetal echocardiogram today, about 70% of complex CHDs are detected prenatally. Goals for detection are targeted at 100%, and we are aiming to reach there with improved awareness and better screening techniques.

A fetal echocardiogram is an ultrasound test performed during pregnancy to evaluate the heart of the unborn child and can be performed as early as 18 weeks gestation. Diagnostic accuracy for detecting complex CHD with a fetal echocardiogram is as high as 95%. It is a non-invasive procedure performed with an ultrasound probe placed over mother’s belly. Generally, the pain or discomfort that results from the probe pressure on the mother is minimal. It involves detailed evaluation of baby’s cardiac structures including cardiac chambers, valves and major blood vessels. It also evaluates fetal heart rate and rhythm. This test can detect CHDs such as missing heart chambers (such as hypoplastic left heart syndrome, hypoplastic right heart syndrome, and many other variations), abnormal great arteries (such as transposition of the great arteries, truncus arteriosus, interrupted aortic arch, etc), abnormal cardiac valves (such as atrioventricular septal defect, pulmonary valve atresia), or large hole between cardiac chambers (such as a large ventricular septal defect). There are limitations of fetal echocardiography that it may not detect minor cardiac valve abnormalities, small holes between cardiac chambers or coarctation of aorta that develops after birth.

Early detection of CHD before baby’s birth has many advantages.

Prenatal diagnosis of CHD allows for necessary preparation to provide highly specialized care that the baby will require soon after the birth and prevents the hemodynamic compromise that can result if this CHD was undetected. This preparation involves coordinated care by multiple teams with expertise in pediatric cardiology, neonatology, pediatric cardiac intensive care and pediatric cardiovascular surgery. In addition, social worker, child life specialists, and palliative care teams may be available to help parents cope with the diagnosis and treatment. An important aspect of early detection is to provide expectant parents the opportunity to have detailed counselling.  This counselling helps parents to better understand their unborn child’s heart condition and interventions that might be needed.  This aids parents in their research to choose a center of excellence for their baby’s care. The goal of this prenatal counselling is for parents to be armed with knowledge, process the information over time, and maximize the family’s preparedness for the journey and transition to a birth of their new baby. Research shows that those mothers who knew about their baby’s heart condition prior to the birth were less anxious once the baby was born as compared to mothers who found out about the defect after baby was born.

There are some standard indications for fetal echocardiography during pregnancy.

Not every expectant mother needs to have a fetal echocardiogram. However, if the risk of having CHD in the unborn child is expected to be higher than general populations, a fetal echocardiogram is indicated. These risk factors include having a prior child with congenital heart defects, maternal diabetes, maternal infections during pregnancy known to affect baby’s heart, etc. Mother should discuss with her obstetrician if a fetal echocardiogram is indicated based on the family history and her own medical history. If indicated, a fetal echocardiogram should be arranged to be performed between 20 to 24 weeks gestation which is an ideal time for accurate diagnosis of CHD. Other indications for fetal echocardiogram include abnormal findings on obstetrical screening test such as increased nuchal thickness, abnormal cardiac images during the level II anatomy scan, chromosomal abnormalities (such as trisomy 21, trisomy 18, trisomy 13, Turner syndrome, etc) detected during the prenatal genetic testing, or other organ malformations noted during the anatomy scan. These abnormal screening tests indicate higher risk of CHD in the fetus and therefore, a fetal echocardiogram is indicated.

What happens after a fetal echocardiogram detects CHD in fetus?

A pediatric cardiologist performing the fetal echocardiogram will discuss the findings of CHD in details with the expectant parents. Tailoring the counselling to the parent’s needs over time is critical as parents can be very overwhelmed during the initial hearing of a diagnosis of CHD. Counselling should include discussion about implications of this CHD on baby during the pregnancy, what support and care this baby would need soon after the birth, what interventions, procedures and surgeries would be necessary during neonatal period, and what other procedures or surgeries would be needed later in life and what is expected overall prognosis with this CHD. The goal of this counselling process is to provide information to parents that would help them with their decision making to choose their options. The options are described in details that include preparing them for this journey to have child with CHD, palliative care or other family planning options.

Each Fetal Cardiac Program have unique set up to provide this detailed counselling. At Lurie Children’s Hospital; these services are provided through our fetal cardiac program at The Chicago Institute for Fetal Health. Following the initial consultation, parents have a “Comprehensive Fetal Cardiac Consultation” which includes a follow up fetal echocardiogram to assess the evolution of the CHD (if any), consultation with a fetal cardiology team composed of a pediatric cardiologist, neonatologist, cardiac intensivist, cardiovascular surgeon, social work, and other specific team pertinent to the diagnosis. For example, a consultation for prenatal diagnosis of HLHS would include a specialist for “Single ventricle Program”. Parents may also choose to meet with “cardiac neurodevelopment team” and “Child life Specialist” if they are interested in learning more about these important aspects of their child’s quality of life in future.  The number of partners at the table during this meeting can seem overwhelming to some parents and modifications are made to this process to meet each family’s needs.  

Our goal as a comprehensive fetal cardiology team is to arm families with information, answer questions, form a united care team to provide cohesive CHD care pre and post-natally, and optimize the chances for the most successful outcome and quality of life throughout a lifetime.  

 

References:

Fetal Echocardiogram: https://www.luriechildrens.org/en-us/care-services/specialties-services/medical-imaging-radiology/diagnosis-services/heart-evaluation-testing/Pages/fetal-echocardiograms.aspx)

CDC: https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/heartdefects/data.html

 

Dr. Sheetal Patel is Associate Director of Fetal Cardiac Program at Ann & Robert H Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago and Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of
Medicine. Her clinical interest lies in fetal, neonatal and pediatric cardiology. She is passionate about prenatal diagnosis of congenital heart defects. Her research interests are in evaluating outcomes in
congenital heart defects, with special focus on single ventricle heart defect and Fontan palliation.

Zipperstrong Project

As we continue through heart month, one amazing program, called Zipperstrong, helps honor families affected by CHD and their stories. The work done by photographer SheRae Hunter helps remind us all that even our scars can be beautiful. 

 

 

 

“I am the mommy of a child who is different.   All I ever want and need is for others to understand. To understand my family, to understand my son, to understand the hours of therapy, the meltdowns, and the uncertainty that we live with daily. To listen and not judge, not offer advice, and not extend pity, but to try understand us,” SheRae Hunter explains.  With her work on the Zipperstrong Project, she helps  other families, families affected by CHD, accomplish this very thing.

 

Ainsley – 2 Years Old – 2 Ventricular Septal Defects closed with open heart surgery at 3 months. ​

 

On the first day of Congenital Heart Disease Awareness Week, the Pediatric Congenital Heart Association of Virginia (PCHA-VA), in partnership with the Zipperstrong Project, shared a set of powerful images capturing the strength, vitality, and hope of children fighting congenital heart disease (CHD), as well as the reality that many CHD warriors sadly lose this battle each year.

 

Blake – Two years on Earth. Forever in our hearts.Transposition of the Great Arteries, AV Canal Defect, Pulmonary Artesia, Heterotaxy

 

Every year, 40,000 infants are born in the United States with a congenital heart defect. It the most common birth defect, yet many people are unaware. Through Zipperstrong, Winchester, Virginia Photographer SheRae Hunter helps raise awareness of congenital heart disease by giving outsiders a glimpse into the CHD world. Hunter started Zipperstrong in 2015 after becoming intertwined in the lives local CHD families and wanting to make a difference.

 

Finn – 2 1/2 Years Old – Heterotaxy, Double Outlet Right Ventricle, Total Anomalous Pulmonary Venous Return and other cardiac issues.

 

“In my photography, I see these children’s personalities shine through, despite their physical and emotional scars. Their vitality and courage is something to be admired and that is what I hope to capture through the Zipperstrong Project. That is what I want the world to see!” says Hunter. “This year’s Zipperstrong class is truly special. Many of these kids have grown up before my eyes, while others I’ve met for the very first time. All of their stories are so deep and profound that I wish I could share every word. Year after year I am reminded of how extraordinary these kids are.”

The 2018 Zipperstrong Class includes children  from across the Commonwealth, from the Shenandoah Valley and neighboring West Virginia regions to Richmond, Fredericksburg, and Alexandria. Their ages  range from newborn to 11 years old. In all, 15 children were photographed and a handful participated for the first time this year. Most of the children have multiple heart defects, and many have gone through numerous surgeries, with more in their future.

 

Jade – 11 Years Old – 2 Ventricular Septal Defects & Double-Chambered Right Ventricle

 

“Through Zipperstrong, SheRae offers the perspective of an outsider and her own artistic vision to tell the story of children living with hearts that have complex structural or functional problems hidden in plain sight,” says PCHA-VA President Laura Carpenter. “Her Zipperstrong Project has moved and captivated all of us at PCHA-VA, and so many more who have never heard of CHD. She has done a great service to the CHD community and we are thrilled to have her as a partner.”

PCHA extends great affection and gratitude to Zipperstrong founder and photographer, SheRae Hunter. Her portraits capture the incredible strength of CHD Warriors in Virginia and allow us to share that with the world!

The Zipperstrong Project kicked off CHD Awareness Week 2018 in Virginia, and we are excited to announce Zipperstrong as a program of the Pediatric Congenital Heart Association!

View this year’s Zipperstrong Project photos at www.zipperstrong.org. The photos will be shared through social media throughout Heart Awareness Month and on display at various events across Virginia, including The Hope Marietta Foundation’s Casino Night in Washington, D.C., on February 24. Arrangements can be made to connect with certain Zipperstrong families and reproduce imagery by contacting PCHA-VA Communications Director Renée Lang at rlang@conqueringchd.org.

 

New Diagnosis – Jaclyn’s Story

This week, PCHA-OH Board Member, Jaclyn Frea shares the story of her miracle baby’s diagnosis with Tetralogy of Fallot.


My husband Bryan and I were married on March 5, 2011 and we knew that immediately we wanted to start a family. Little did we know, getting pregnant would be a lot more difficult than we thought and tragedy would strike two fold. Five months after we were married, I lost my Dad to cancer and, a year and a half later, in 2014, I lost my Mom to a different form of cancer. I am an only child, so losing both my parent was a devastating loss, but we didn’t want to give up at trying to have the family we had always wanted.

Along with the loss of my parents, Bryan and I tried and tried to get pregnant with no luck, each month we thought, maybe this month will be our month, then nothing. We then decided to go through a fertility doctor, only to find out that pregnancy probably wasn’t in our future. At that time, there was no explanation why! We wanted so badly to be parents. We decided to look into the adoption process and were approved; the only thing we needed to complete the adoption process was to find a birth Mom. After 5 years of unsuccessfully trying to get pregnant and just being approved to adopt, I found out I was pregnant!!!

My pregnancy with Paul was amazing. Yes, I had morning sickness, a lot of morning sickness, but I was carrying the baby I had always wanted. I was pregnant with a miracle baby, and I was incredibly grateful and I loved every single minute of being pregnant with this child! From hearing the first heartbeat, to seeing our baby in the ultrasounds and seeing my belly grow, feeling the baby kick and being incredibly active, and then finding out that we were going to have a little boy. God had answered my prayers!

The day arrived when Paul wanted to make his debut and everything seemed to be going pretty smoothly, until, his 36 hour check up. I remember the nurse coming in and telling Bryan and I that she was going to take Paul to the nursery to complete his check up and feeling so blissful about everything being absolutely perfect. A little while later, the doctor came into tell us that they could still hear a murmur in Paul’s heart, and they wanted to send him down to the NICU to conduct an echocardiogram on his heart just to make sure everything was alright. I hadn’t been released from the hospital yet, so we were going between floors being with our son and waiting on me to be discharged.

Bryan and I walked into the NICU, and I remember being greeted at the entrance with our nurse immediately informing us that they were going to be conducting an arterial blood draw on Paul. I remember that my heart sank. I knew in my gut that something was wrong with my baby boy, and the next hour we were waiting on the NICU doctor to come and tell us that our son was born with a Congenital Heart Defect, Tetralogy of Fallot!

How could this be happening, after everything we had been through, a CHD???? Neither Bryan, nor I were prepared, let alone even thought about a CHD! I remember sitting in the chair, sobbing, and the only words I remember hearing were Tetralogy of Fallot, open heart surgery necessary; if he didn’t have the surgery, he wouldn’t survive to be a teenager…..what???!!!

My husband is a Firefighter and Paramedic, and I thank God that he was there because he was so strong and he understood everything the doctor was saying. Paul was considered a pink tet baby, as his O2 saturation remained near 100. Looking at him, one wouldn’t even know that he was sick. In a normal case of Tetralogy of Fallot, the heart shunts blood from the right side to the left side, sending oxygen poor blood to the body. Paul instead shunted blood from the left to right, keeping his oxygen levels very high, but causing constriction of the pulmonary blood vessels and risking permanent lung damage due to this increased blood flow.

Paul was released from the NICU later that day, and that is when the litany of doctor’s appointments and preparations began. Bryan and I kept Paul quarantined pretty much until his surgery, because we wanted to try and keep him as healthy as possible. When he was 4 1/2 months old, he had his complete repair via open heart surgery in 2016 by Dr. Toshiharu Shinoka. Paul is followed closely by Nationwide Children’s Hospital, but now only requires yearly echocardiograms and check ups.

Paul is now 22 months old and he is doing phenomenally well; exceeding every milestone set before him.  Paul is a happy, mellow baby (toddler), who loves the water and can’t get enough of the bathtub and the swimming pool. He is always smiling, beginning to talk, and using lots of sign language (we began to teach Paul sign language when he was 6 months old).  He LOVES music, dancing and trying all kinds of foods.  He is very compassionate with a strong love for animals (he loves to give kisses and hugs where ever he goes). He is an only child, a total flirt
(who no doubt will use his scar to flirt with the ladies in the future).  Paul is a dynamic young man, who is also a giant book worm (he gets to go through about 25 to 30 books each day), walking and running everywhere, is super chatty, and is climbing on and into everything.

All who hear about him are inspired by his story and genuine passion for life.  Paul is, without a doubt, our miracle baby. I had to have an emergent hysterectomy 6 months after Paul was born, only to find out that I had severe endometriosis. The doctors said there is no scientific or medical reason why I should have ever gotten pregnant. Paul is a miracle, and is meant for great things in his very bright future!

Jaclyn Frea  is a wife, to Bryan, and a Mom, to Paul her heart warrior. She loves her family, animals and OSU Buckeye Football. She is a PCHA – Ohio Board member, as well as the Communications Coordinator for Congenital Heart Network of Central Ohio.  Jaclyn also volunteers as a wish grantor for the Make-A-Wish Foundation.  In her spare time, she loves to spend time at the zoo, with her family, coloring, and Jaclyn loves makeup and all things beauty related.

Recap – Wellness

When living with chronic illness or caring for a chronically Ill child, it’s important to maintain a healthy lifestyle. PCHA’s Wellness Blog Series contributors offered tips on how to do it!

The Most Wonderful Time Of Year

The Holiday Season is meant to be filled with family and joy. It can also be a time of great stress, especially for families with chronically ill loved ones. In today’s post, Becky Hunt shares her experience with losing a child to CHD as well as managing her own illness, and explains how to de-stress from it all around the holidays, or any stressful time of year.

 

CHD and Exercise

With the brand new year, many of us are making resolutions to better ourselves and our lives. Exercising more is often at the top of the list! This week, Kathleen Baschen, an exercise physiologist at Ann & Robert  H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, shares tips on how patients with CHD can get FITT. 

 

Balance

In the latest post in the Wellness Series, Megan Horsley, heart mom and Pediatric Dietitian at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, discusses how to find balance with your nutrition.

 

 

New Diagnosis – Prenatal Conquering CHD Kits

This week, our State Chapter Coordinator, Melanie Toth, shares her experience with us as  a new mom finding out her son would be born with a congenital heart defect and how PCHA helps to make sure other families don’t have to go through what Melanie’s did alone.

 

Like many heart families, when diagnosed with their child’s heart defect, your world is flipped upside down. It was no different for our family. I remember us walking out of the room not really understanding or knowing what just happened. We had only walked into the doctors office for our 20 week ultrasound, and left finding out our child would be born with a heart defect, that I couldn’t even pronounce. While I have always had a love and hate relationship with congenital heart disease, over the past decade I have learned a lot. I can’t change the diagnosis we were given that day, but I did wish I could change the information that our family was given when we left the doctors office.

We weren’t aware that CHD was the #1 birth defect or that too many families walked in similar shoes as us. We left feeling hopeless and alone, with a paper that said, “Tetralogy of Fallot”. My husband and I went online to get more information on our son’s diagnosis and, to say the least, were completely overwhelmed. There was different information on various websites, and we just felt more hopeless.

If 10 years ago our doctors would have handed us a PCHA Prenatal Conquering CHD Kit, life would have been just a little easier. From resource cards to navigate important CHD information, to guided questions on what to ask your medical team, and most importantly, how to connect with other heart families, the prenatal kit is like a life raft for new families. Through PCHA State Chapters and working with hospitals, prenatal kits have offered the much needed information and personal connection that every heart family deserves. If 10 years ago our family was given a prenatal kit, instead of walking out with our sons defect written down, our family would not have felt so alone in our heart journey, during a difficult first year with our son’s surgeries.

I feel honored and blessed to help our PCHA State Chapters as National State Chapter Coordinator. Personally helping heart families and helping set up chapters to empower families, is the best pay it forward our family can offer.

 

Melanie’s heart journey began in June 2008, during a routine 20 week ultrasound. She and husband were devastated by the news that their unborn son Luke would be born with a congenital heart defect (Tetralogy of Fallot) and required heart surgery at a week old and again at 9 months old. Feeling very scared and alone during the roller coaster ride of a CHD journey, Melanie decided that no other heart family should feel alone. In 2010, she has started a support group for heart families in Chicago. Working nationally and locally with various CHD organizations. In 2016, she began volunteering with PCHA’s new state chapters, to offer families more than just support. She is currently the State Chapter Coordinator for PCHA National helping to develop state chapters.

 

Recap – Arrhythmias and Cardiac Devices

Complications from surgery, scar tissue left behind, and an underlying disease can bring about arrhythmias in CHD patients and lead to need for a cardiac device. Gathered here are the contributions and resources from PCHA’s Arrhythmia Blog Series. 

 

Jarvik: For Smaller Hearts

PCHA’s next series introduces the various Cardiac Devices involved in the treatment of Congenital Heart Disease and the associated conditions. In the first post, Dr. Adachi tells us about the Jarvik for small hearts, a ventricular assist device used to help pump blood through the body.

 

Terri’s Story

Often times, CHD patients face issues with the rhythm of their hearts. In some patients, this can mean additional treatment is necessary, with either medication or a cardiac device. In this week’s post, Terri Elliott, an adult CHD patient, shares her experience with an arrhythmia that led to her receiving an implantable cardioverter defibrillator. or ICD.

 

The Elephant in the Room

With each CHD, there is no certain path, no one course looks like the next, and complications vary widely. Though a patient may have a specific structural diagnosis, different arrhythmias may develop over time, however patients and families are not always made aware of this possibility immediately. That’s why the diagnosis of an arrhythmia may surprise parents and send them for a loop, just when they think they’ve seen it all.  This also makes it difficult for parents to know just how much to share with teacher and other adults in their children’s lives, just as Alison Connors shares with us this week.

 

Bradycardia Explained (Part One)

This week former Cardiac Nurse, Carol Raimondi, provides us with the first of a two-part resource on arrhythmia and the various diagnosis and treatment. Up first: Bradycardia.

 

Tachycardia Explained (Part Two)

New Diagnosis – Baby Shower

When a mom -to-be  receives a CHD diagnosis for her baby, questions and uncertainty swirl. Laura Carpenter shares, this week, how her baby’s Truncus Arteriosus diagnosis affected her perspective on baby showers. 

 

I remember reading an advice column many years ago. Someone was seeking guidance about her struggle to attend a friends baby shower after a pregnancy loss. I remember thinking that was selfish of her to not attend and probably only fed her grief.

Oh how time and life experiences round the rough edges.

I am now the one who hesitates at the thought of attending baby showers, even as I’m most genuinely excited for babies-on-the-way. Sometimes I accept the invitations and I attend. Other-times I forgive myself and excuse myself.Gwenyth, my heart baby was born with a heart defect called Truncus Arteriosus on St. Patricks day in 2010. She passed away when she was two months old. Baby showers are hard for me now.

When I do attend baby showers, it’s not just the absence of my baby that can be magnified, it’s the memory of the baby shower that I didn’t have, that often summons the ever present heartache to the surface.

If I could do things over again (how often I tread this path in my mind) I imagine the baby shower I wish had for Gwen.

If I could do it over again…I would say YES when my friend offered to plan a shower instead of deciding it was awkward to ask people to attend a celebratory event when her survival to birth was uncertain. I would decide to celebrate her life as given – her life as it was, already deeply a part of ours and Gwen already much-loved in our hearts. However, I would not want anyone to pretend everything was okay – but rather to be there with me, to be present and allowing for all the range of emotions that may come at such “type” of a of baby shower. They could be there to witness her story unfolding and her life as given. They would be part of her life story.If I could do it over again…I would use her baby shower as an opportunity to share the details of her diagnosis and begin spreading CHD awareness then and there (this is my hind-site 20/20 feeding my vision, so of course I’m a well-versed CHD advocate at my HeartBaby shower in this scenario). I’d share the stories of new connections I made with other mom’s expecting CHD babies. Everyone would hear about the CHD survivors that live right under our noses and be well aware of the HOPE that exists for heart kids. They would would all leave knowing how underfunded CHD research is and, through my crystal clear, 20-20 hindsight, I’d share a special “HeartBaby Registry” with them which would offer guidance on the “baby stuff” needs of a heat parent.

This special list would help everyone know which baby items would be most useful for hospital life. They would serve to bring a little sunshine and warmth to some of the lonely times caring for a baby in the hospital as I would remember the shower and think about the person who gifted it to us and was rooting for Gwen.

From the unfair vantage point of hind-sight, I wish I had told my friend, YES, please plan a shower. The reality is, my family and friends would have been honored to celebrate Gwen with me, even it was a different kind of baby shower, perhaps a little more heavy and less light and giggly than most. And what’s more – it would have given us one more very special memory of her life to cherish.

 

 

 

My volunteer work within PCHA Virginia this past year has centered around completing our prenatal care package for families like mine, who learn their baby will need open heart surgery early in life. In this “Conquering CHD kit,” PCHA offers guidance for parents regarding what questions to ask their care team, directs them to trusted sources online and shares stories of CHD Warriors that inspire HOPE. There is also a special page, created partly in response to my relentless hindsight about a missed baby shower. With anecdotes and lists, the page offers suggestions on what to pack for the anticipated hospital stay. I hope it will help families get a confidence-boosting glimpse of what caring for a heart baby in the hospital looks like. And, with this in hand, I sincerely hope families facing a prenatal diagnosis will embrace the opportunity to have a baby shower for their heart child and will even find themselves having fun creating their registry, feeling empowered as they know exactly what to ask for as Heart Parents!

http://conqueringchd.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/Heart-List.pdf

 

Laura, originally from the Hudson Valley area of New York, lives in Harrisonburg, Virginia where she met her husband, Myers when they were undergrads at James Madison University.  Their heart-healthy kiddos are Lillian and Arthur. Their middle child, Gwenyth was diagnosed prenatally with Truncus Arteriosus. She was born in March, 2010 and had open heart surgery when she was two days old. After about one month of enjoying life at home Gwen passed away from a sudden overwhelming sepsis (Neonatal Alloimmune Neutropenia is suspected in her sudden illness.)  Gwen’s life has inspired Laura to stay involved with the CHD community.  She is the President of the the Virginia chapter of the Pediatric Congenital Heart Association and is passionate about helping parents find strength for this journey, confidence in their role as their child’s advocate and connection with other CHD families for invaluable sources encouragement and education. She teaches art part-time at a small private school and enjoys gardening, hiking and spending quality time with friends and family.

New Diagnosis – Mary Beth’s Story, Diagnosed in Adulthood

We continue the New Diagnosis series with Mary Beth Meyers’ story. Diagnosed at the age of 23, Mary Beth shares how she had to put her dreams on hold due to an undetected CHD. 

 

 

 

In May of 2012, I was a newly graduated young woman, with hopes and dreams to begin working with children, meet my husband, and have a family someday. All that came crashing down the day I was diagnosed with a heart defect. A few months after turning 23, having just earned a degree in Early Childhood Education, I learned that I was born with an undiagnosed Congenital Heart Defect(CHD). My specific CHD is an Atrioventricular Canal defect, which isn’t just one, but rather a group of small defects that include an ASD, a VSD and possible abnormalities of the AV valves(mitral and tricuspid).  Since this defect can only be repaired by surgery, I am now  a two time open heart surgery survivor. I had my 1st surgery in August 2012 and a full mitral valve replacement in May of 2015(pig valve). I will be facing my third open heart this coming Summer.

Every since that sucky diagnosis day, life has been an absolute roller coaster ride. One filled with many fears, unknowns, and blessings. The physical, mental, and financial aspect has been draining, not just on me, but family, especially my parents. I know my parents would blow through their savings and sell everything they owned to keep me alive, but as an adult patient, who is quite aware of how stressful finances can be, there is always that sense of guilt running through my mind.  I have to remind myself everyday to count my blessings and that somehow God provides, not just for me, but for my parents too.

Being a late diagnosis has it’s pros and cons. My childhood was thankfully a normal one, even though knowing about my CHD would have explained all those years of being “tired,” rather than writing them off as laziness. My childhood wasn’t filled with surgeries, multiple hospital stays, doctors appointments, and trauma of not being able to communicate or understand what was going on.

For me, however,  the cons outweigh the pros. Not knowing for so long your heart was in overload for the majority of your childhood and all of your teenage years can add up to some hefty damage. Sometimes waiting can do more harm than good. And in my case, I, along with my parents and care team, wonder if doctors had intervened early on, would I be facing my third open heart surgery in under 6 years. Unfortunately, that’s something we will never find out, but I firmly believe, the earlier intervention, the better the outcome. Of course, it’s not something to dwell on, but rather be grateful that my diagnosis was found in my early twenties, rather than my fifties, or worse, during an autopsy.

Trying to become a young adult after getting through my 1st surgery has been anything but easy. Open heart surgery changes you physically, mentally, and emotionally. You are not the same person. Trying to navigate through life with something you know will never go away and brings a ton of physical and emotional pain can be draining. Not to mention, it’s financially draining. It forces you and your family to make sacrifices in so many areas. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but when it consumes your whole life, for the rest of your life, it can seem unfair and downright exhausting. It makes you feel like you don’t know where you belong in this world. All your hopes and dreams keep getting delayed, and you wonder, with another open heart around the corner, if they will actually ever come true.

My late heart diagnosis has left me confused, angry, and jealous. Jealous of family and friends building their careers, gaining independence, experiencing marriage and motherhood. The hardest part is realizing, because you survived, that you are here for a reason, yet  you feel like a failure. You feel like a failure at times because you are struggling to become the independent adult you thought you’d be since childhood, having no idea then that your defect existed. Even though a few years have passed since my diagnosis, there are still days where it is hard to swallow the news of this disease. But there is a lot  I cannot change in my life, I can only keep moving forward with a new perspective.

One of my favorite quotes that I’ve come to lean on is, ”Accept the things you cannot change, the courage to change the things you can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”  I had no idea this is what my life would become, but everyday is gift. If you find yourself in a similar situation, surround yourself with family, friends, and a community of patients like you. It has shaped me into a person I’d never imagined I would be, and, now, I couldn’t imagine my life any other way.

 

 

Mary Beth Meyer is a 29 year old, living with an AV Canal Defect. With a late diagnosis at the age of 23, she has since undergone two open heart surgeries. Her most recent was a full Mitral valve replacement. Mary Beth graduated college from Franciscan University in 2011, and is currently pursuing a masters degree in Elementary Education at Holy Family University. She loves being an aunt to two beautiful nieces and  a handsome nephew. She loves her faith, family,  and a good peppermint latte. As the author of Mimi’s Open Heart blog, Mary Beth shares the good, bad, and amazing things about having a congenital heart defect. You can find her on Facebook @Mimi’s Open Heart or Instagram @mimisopenheart.

New Diagnosis – One Day At A Time, A Heart Mom’s Story

As we approach Heart Month PCHA begins its series on New Diagnosis. This week, Heart Mom Alexandra Frost shares with us the story of her daughter Emersynn’s  diagnosis in utero and how she learned to take the news and life with CHD day by day.

 

 

It all started when we went for our 12 week NT scan, where they measure the fluid behind the neck. The doctor came into the room and we could feel the discomfort. He said that our baby’s fluid behind the neck was measuring double the norm. This was a red flag for either Down syndrome or a congenital heart defect (CHD). He sent me to get blood work the same day. Ten long days later, I got the results that our baby tested negative for Down syndrome and the other genetic stuff they tested for, and we found out she was a girl! We were so excited and thought we were in the clear since we have no history of CHDs on either side of our family.

Fast forward 8 weeks when we went for our 20 week anatomy scan. When the doctor came in, we got that same feeling. She said, “All organs look good, except her heart. Unfortunately, she has a heart defect which puts you in that 1%.” It was one of the worst days of our lives. My world shattered as I tried to process these foreign words – “congenital heart defect.” They weren’t quite sure how severe her defect was at that point, which is why we were referred to a high risk OB and then a pediatric cardiologist.

When we saw the pediatric cardiologist, he broke the news that she does indeed have a complex heart defect which is VERY rare. Once again, my heart sank to the floor after hearing this news. Emersynn has congenitally corrected transposition of the great arteries (ccTGA or l-tga), a large ventricular septal defect (VSD), pulmonary stenosis (PS) and dextrocardia. Out of those one percent that end up with a heart defect, .5 – 1% end up with ccTGA. That is how rare the defect is! Only 5,000-10,000 people in the US have this condition! After leaving the cardiologist that day, my husband and I looked at each other in the car and looked back down at the paper that had a drawing of our baby’s heart. We were so confused and wondered if we would ever be able to understand the anatomy of our little one’s heart. Overwhelmed was an understatement.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We live in Fort Myers, and, unfortunately, the hospitals around here are not equipped to deliver babies with severe heart defects. We were given the choice to deliver in Miami or Tampa. Although Emersynn’s ped cardiologist (who is exceptional) is in Tampa, we decided to deliver in the Miami area at Memorial Regional Hospital (connected to Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital). This decision was made through countless hours of research after finding out (this is how I essentially coped with the news). During our research we came across a Facebook page for a boy that has the same defect. I reached out to his mother who led me to a private Facebook group for Emersynn’s particular defect. Only immediate family or the person affected is allowed to join this group. It turned out to be an extraordinary group that helped us tremendously! We found out, through this group, that a top surgeon for Emersynn’s defect was mentoring at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital, and was there about once per month. This made us feel comfortable, as her defect is so rare and there are only a handful of surgeons that are successful in doing the major surgery that she will eventually need in the future.

 

We were told throughout the pregnancy that Emersynn would need a shunt within a week of birth, as they thought she wouldn’t get enough blood to her lungs. She would then need a major surgery called the double switch down the road. I ended up delivering on November 22, 2016 and she was a big baby, which defies odds already! They watched her closely in CICU for three days as her PDA closed. Once it was closed they monitored her saturation. She proved to be miraculous and was sent home on day 4, with no surgery and thriving!

Emersynn just turned one year old and has not had any surgery thus far! She is defying all odds and doing SO amazing! She is growing well and hitting all of her milestones on or before (!) she is supposed to! This little girl amazes us more and more everyday! She is such an inspiration to everyone around her and is such a strong little warrior! Emersynn will need a major open heart surgery in the next few years. The doctors say her body will tell us when it’s time. This is a very risky surgery and hard to put her through when she is currently doing so well. We know she will eventually need this surgery to continue to thrive and give her the best life. Some days, I hardly think about her heart defect, and other days it totally consumes me. It’s something I wouldn’t wish on anyone. However, we wouldn’t change Emersynn for the world. We know that we were chosen to be this sweet girl’s parents, because we could handle the challenge. Through this experience, we have learned to take it one day at a time!

 

 Alexandra Frost currently lives in Fort Myers, FL. She is originally from Long Island, NY and graduated from Villanova University in 2012. Alexandra has been married to her high school sweetheart for almost 2 years. She juggles real estate and being a mommy to a very adventurous one year old heart warrior. Alexandra and her husband are excited for their second baby on the way and know Emersynn is going to make a great big sister!

Wellness – Balance

In the latest post in the Wellness Series, Megan Horsley, heart mom and Pediatric Dietitian at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, discusses how to find balance with your nutrition.

 

 

Have you ever felt off balance? I am not specifically talking about when you were walking on a balance bean during gym class or gymnastics; or stretching your quadriceps after a run; or learning how to ride a bike for the first time. I am talking about BALANCE as you journey through life. I can assure you, from heart mom to heart mom and heart dad to heart dad, having your child affected by heart disease creates imbalance in your life at times. I think this unevenness, even though challenging in the moments, help us to grow into better individuals in the long run.

What about when you ignore your alarm and wake up late, panicking because you have to get to work, an appointment, or make sure the kids make the bus, or let the dog out before he or she pees on the floor. Then like dominos, the rest of your day may seem off. You either eat late, skip eating or choose something half satisfactory and unhealthy and then before you know it, it is dinner time when you stop and think about your eating and drinking choices throughout the day!

Well, I often think of one’s health and nutrition in the same manner. Sometimes, our eating and healthy behavior is “off balance” and we need to get it back into check. At times we are not mindful of what we are entering into our mouths or how it will affect our body’s long term. We put the nutrition of the ones we love and care for every day before our own nutrition. This is being a parent, right!? Maybe, some of us are better at it than others but no matter what we can all use reminders of how to be more mindful to eat healthier.

I believe mindful eating is vital to maintaining a healthy weight and eating behaviors. Listen to your body. Slow down. The more mindful we are, the more balance we have around our nutrition and diet. It is especially important to practice around the holidays, celebrations or social events. For example, have you ever actually counted out the number of chips/crackers the label says is a serving? or measured out the appropriate amount of salad dressing or cheese for your salad?  This practice encourages more self-education but you also get to visually see what a portion size looks like for that item. Try it for the next food you eat! Learn what normal portions look like for foods. Read those food labels! They have been updated this year and are more reader friendly. This includes even those calorie-dense fluids like juice, Kool aide or, yes, alcohol. I think you will be surprised. Conscious awareness will go a long way in healthy decision making. You may find yourself eating from smaller plates or drinking from thinner glasses. Use mantras to keep you aligned with your goals. One of the mantras I use to remind myself of mindful eating is: Eat, Drink, Be Mindful.

Another contributor to a healthy diet is pre-planning. We are busy people and on the go. If meals and snacks are not planned, it is easy to give in to fast food or limit food groups when grabbing something quick. This can lead to overeating or uncontrolled snacking. Take a few minutes to pack ahead some healthy snacks so you are ready to fuel yourself as well as your family when you hear, “I’m hungry!” from your child in the back seat. Get a dry erase white board and plan your meals out for the week. Incorporate the kids in the process. Taco night or breakfast for dinner can still be offered as a balanced meal. If headed to a party, plan to make a dish that you know has good nutritional value and that your family will eat at the party. I like to think as planning ahead as “mapping out your nutrition” for the day/week. Now, yes, this does take effort but so does getting dressed or maintaining hygiene. If you make it part of your routine, you won’t be bothered by the time it takes.

Keep your plate colorful! Try to eat from a variety of colors during your day. Each color represents different phytochemicals, antioxidants and nutrients for your body. They are all important. If you only eat one color all the time, you may be missing out on other vitamins and minerals important to your heart health, the skin or immune system. Be creative with your colors. Try new colors of foods. We have over 10,000 tastes buds and they change often and over time. Repetitive tasting of foods will help one acquire a taste. Don’t get frustrated but find different ways to incorporate a new food if your child/ren won’t accept it.

Pair protein with each meal and snack! Protein is the building blocks of our bodies. By pairing protein with a carbohydrate or fat, your digestion will be slowed and you will have less spikes in your blood sugar. Try the peanut butter with the apple or banana; add a cheese stick to your crackers; dip sliced peppers or carrots in your hummus or veggie dip; add avocado to your toast; try almonds with your dried fruit. You will have more lasting energy and feel stronger.

Choose fruit for dessert if looking for something sweet! This is a nice way to add more nutrients while feeling like you are fixing your craving for sweet. Yogurt and berries, banana bread, mango sorbet can be a lower calorie, higher protein, nutrient-enriched option.

I would like to end this blog with Role modeling good healthy behavior. Eat to live, not live to eat! As a heart mom, and a cardiac dietitian, I am endlessly reminded of how precious life is. Be kind to your heart and live as you want your children to live! Yeah, it sounds cheesy but it works. If they see you exercising routinely, packing your lunch for work, making meals as a family, downing a kale smoothie, or trying something new they will follow this learned behavior. Find balance again when you may have fallen off. Be mindful of your body and health and don’t waste time with weight loss pills or quick fixes. Use hard work, education and dedication to help you be successful in maintaining a healthy weight.

 

You can find more healthy nutrition information at various nutrition blogs. See nutrition blogs for all categories at: http://www.nutritionblognetwork.com/

 

Megan Horsley, heart mom, heart dietitian
Pediatric Dietitian @ Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center
Megan.horsley@cchmc.org

 

My Heart Hero: Maggie

 

 

 

 

Megan Horsley is a Clinical Pediatric Registered Dietitian at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. She currently practices in the Critical Cardiac Intensive Care Unit as well as outpatient cardiology areas. She is a Certified Nutrition Support Clinician in addition holds a Certification as a Specialist in Pediatric Nutrition. She received her undergraduate degree from the University of Cincinnati in 2006 and completed her dietetic internship with the University of Northern Colorado in 2007. She has been a lead dietitian for the Children’s Heart Institute and participates in many projects and community services such as, The National Pediatric Cardiology Quality Improvement Collaborative, family education day and heart camp to name a few. She recently joined the Cincinnati Children’s Heart Association Board in October of this year. She has ten years of professional practice in pediatric nutrition and thirteen years of personal experience as a heart mom herself. She plans on continuing to concentrate her efforts on improving the nutritional care, experience and outcomes for all children affected by heart disease.