When are Congenital Heart Defect (CHD) survivors at their most vulnerable?
There are two schools of thinking in the CHD world. For lack of a better term, we’ll call these two philosophies “Old School” and “New School”.
The Old School is what Cardiologists used to tell CHDers and their parents: Now that the child has his/her surgical correction(s), they are “fixed”! Certainly, they may be a step slower, not be able to do as much, can’t play as hard as the other kids, but their defective heart has been repaired and they are set for life. All is well that ends well!
New School is the reality: As time passed as the early survivors began to grow into adults, they started having problems related to their deformed hearts. Finally it was realized that just maybe that original repair wasn’t permanent, and some of the old problems were coming back. So now, New School Cardiologists tell their patients that while they are repaired, a CHDer needs lifelong care by a specialized Cardiologist to make sure that those problems stay under control.
Be warned, the Old School of thought still exists, despite all the evidence to the contrary. Old School thinking exists on several levels – not only does it include the fallacy of “once repaired, totally repaired”, there is also a segment of the population who think Heart Defect = Death Sentence. Such thinking is toxic and you do not need this in your life: The best thing you can do if you should run into someone with an Old School mindset is to RUN!
The most dangerous time for a CHDer is when he/she begins to transition away from their Pediatric Cardiologist to an Adult Cardiologist. Most Adult Cardiologist deal with Acquired Heart Disease, not Adult Congenital Heart Defects (ACHD). Acquired Heart Disease are heart problems caused by diet, clogged arteries, hardening of the arteries, high cholesterol, and the natural aging of the heart. Someone with a Congenital Heart Defect will not have these problems, or they will manifest themselves differently in our bodies. So we need someone experienced with caring for Adult Congenital Cardiac patients – an ACHD doctor.
The problem is, there are currently very few ACHD doctors available. In an interview recently posted on Adventures of a Funky Heart!, Dr. Michael McConnell gave an example: There are about fifty Pediatric Cardiology practicing in the city of Atlanta, Georgia, but only two part time ACHD Doctors.
ACHD doctors can be found, though it may take some searching. The Adult Congenital Heart Association (ACHA) offers an ACHD Clinic directory for the United States and Canada on their website. (ACHA Membership is free). ACHA is also pursuing Vision 2020, a proposed blueprint for Adult Cardiological Care in the 21st Century.
Vision 2020 builds on the Bethesda 32 Report produced by the American College of Cardiology. Bethesda 32 was produced in 2000 and addresses the issue of Adult Cardiological Care. (The name is derived from the 32nd meeting of the American College of Cardiology’s yearly focus group held in Bethesda, Maryland. The group studies a different issue each year.)
The Bethesda 32 Report divides the known heart defects into three groups – “Mild”, “Moderate”, and “Severe” and recommends the proper level of care needed for each group. While someone with a “mild” heart defect – a very small unrepaired Atrial Septal Defect (ASD), for example – can usually be cared for by the general medical community with yearly ACHD checkups, someone with a “Severe” defect (my Tricuspid Atresia, for example) needs to be seen in at an ACHD Clinic regularly. Severe CHD patients should also consult with their home clinic before undergoing most medical procedures, getting pregnant, etc.
There is a good outline of the Bethesda 32 Report HERE; you can read the report online by clicking THIS LINK. Click “Print a PDF” from that page to print out a copy of the Report. Be prepared; it is over 60 pages long.
Having a copy (or several) of Bethesda 32 can come in handy when/if your insurance company balks at providing coverage for an out-of-network doctor. The report can be used to show established medical guidelines saying that you need to be seen by a specialist.
The profile of the “average” Heart Defect Survivor is changing, as there are currently more adult survivors than there are children. Congenital Cardiac Care is slowly changing to reflect this.