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Significant health disparities in detection of critical congenital heart disease

pregnant hispanic woman

Mothers who are Hispanic or who come from rural or low socioeconomic status neighborhoods are less likely to have their child’s critical heart condition diagnosed before birth, according to a new study in the journal Circulation.

Mothers who are Hispanic or who come from rural or low socioeconomic status neighborhoods are less likely to have their child’s critical heart condition diagnosed before birth, according to a new study in the journal Circulation.

This is the largest and most geographically diverse study of these challenges to date. The study compared patient data of more than 1,800 children from the United State and Canada diagnosed with two of the most common, and the most serious, critical congenital heart defects: hypoplastic left heart syndrome (HLHS), when the left side of the heart is not developed completely, and transposition of the great arteries (TGA), when the two main arteries that carry blood away from the heart are reversed.

“The earlier we diagnose a heart defect, especially a serious one such as HLHS or TGA, the sooner we can make a plan for how to safely deliver the infant and reduce the impacts of that heart defect on the rest of the body,” says Anita Krishnan, M.D., first author and cardiologist at Children’s National Hospital. “Early detection and diagnosis of these conditions is crucial to ensuring the best possible outcome for the child, especially in protecting the brain.”

Even when infants’ heart defects were detected before birth, babies from neighborhoods with lower socioeconomic status were detected later in gestation than others.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the idea of significant disparities in health care to the forefront of our national attention,” says Dr. Krishnan. “Even though many health care providers have seen these inequities firsthand in their own clinical experience, it was still surprising to see the strength of the association between socioeconomic position and the care available to mothers.”

In both the United States and Canada, expectant mothers are first screened as part of routine prenatal care in the first trimester for early signs of congenital heart defects and other genetic disorders via blood screen and ultrasound. In the second trimester, a comprehensive ultrasound evaluation for structural anomalies is routine. If any issues are detected, the mother is referred for a fetal echocardiogram and counseling.

The authors suggest that decreased linkages between neighborhoods and people identified in the study and subspecialists could contribute to the disparities found in the study.

“Prenatal detection rates may improve if we are able to leverage outreach and telehealth to strengthen the relationships between these specialties and the groups we identified in the study,” Dr. Krishnan says.

The study included a total of 1,862 patients, including 1,171 patients with HLHS (91.8% prenatally diagnosed) and 691 with TGA (58% prenatally diagnosed). The study group included prenatally diagnosed fetuses with HLHS or TGA and postnatally diagnosed infants less than two months old with HLHS or TGA. Data was collected from institutions participating in the Fetal Heart Society, a non-profit 501(c) multicenter research collaborative with a mission to advance the field of fetal cardiovascular care and science. Mary Donofrio, M.D., director of Prenatal Cardiology at Children’s National, is society president and served as a senior author on this study.

Read the AHA’s press release: Prenatal detection of heart defects lower in rural, poor areas and among Hispanic women.

tiny stent illustration

Thinking small for newborns with critical congenital heart disease

tiny stent illustration

Illustration of a hybrid stage I palliation with bilateral bands on the lung vessels and a stent in the ductus arteriosus for patients with small left heart structures.

A new LinkedIn post from Kurt Newman, M.D., president and CEO of Children’s National Hospital, tells a story about the hospital’s cardiac surgeons and interventional cardiologists working with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to bring a better-sized, less-invasive vascular stent to the U.S. for the first time. The stent holds open a newborn’s ductus arteriosus, a key blood vessel that keeps blood flowing to the body, until the baby is big and strong enough to undergo a serious open-heart procedure for repair of hypoplastic left heart syndrome.

He writes, “Why is this important? At less than 6 lbs., these patients have arteries that are thinner than a toothpick – less than 2mm in diameter. Currently, the stent used in these children is an FDA approved device for adult vascular procedures, adapted and used off-label in children. It is not always well suited for the smallest babies as it is too large for insertion through the artery and often too long as well. The extra length can create immediate and long-term complications including obstructing the vessel it is supposed to keep open.

“While I am proud of the talent and dedication of our Children’s National cardiac surgery and interventional cardiology teams, I tell this story to illustrate a larger point – innovation in children’s medical devices matters. What’s unfortunate is that development and commercialization of pediatric medical devices in the U.S. continues to lag significantly behind adults…We can and must do better.”

Read Dr. Newman’s full post on LinkedIn.

heart and medical equiptment

How much do you know about congenital heart defects?


International cardiac surgery experts join Children’s National

Children’s National Health System is pleased to announce the addition of Can Yerebakan, M.D., and Karthik Ramakrishnan, M.D., to our team of pediatric cardiac surgeons.

Can YerebakanDr. Yerebakan comes to Children’s National from the prestigious Pediatric Heart Center in Giessen, Germany, where he was appointed as an Associate Professor of Cardiac Surgery at the Justus-Liebig-University and performed hybrid treatment of hypoplastic left heart syndrome (HLHS).  He was deeply involved in mechanical circulatory support and pediatric heart transplantation in Giessen – a leading center for pediatric heart transplantation in Europe. He also served as Chief of Clinical and Experimental Research in the Department of Congenital Cardiac Surgery at Justus-Liebig-University of Giessen, where he acquired several research grants and contributed to more than 20 abstract presentations at national and international meetings and 20 papers in peer-reviewed journals. . Dr. Yerebakan has published approximately 70 scientific papers with more than 160 impact points in three different languages. He is an active reviewer for journals such as the Journal of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery, European Journal of Cardiothoracic Surgery and serves as assistant editor of the Interactive Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgery journal and Multimedia Manual Cardiothoracic Surgery journal, both of which are official journals of the European Association of Cardiothoracic Surgery. He has had a distinguished academic career and is internationally recognized for his contributions to the field of congenital cardiac surgery, particularly in the treatment of HLHS and novel surgical treatments for heart failure in the pediatric population. Prior to his tenure at Pediatric Heart Center, Dr. Yerebakan completed his fellowship at Children’s in 2011.

Karthik RamakrishnanDr. Ramakrishnan joined Children’s National as a fellow in 2014 after completing his fellowship in congenital cardiac surgery at two major centers in Australia. After his two-year fellowship at Children’s, he joined the faculty. Dr. Ramakrishnan has extensive experience in managing children with congenital heart disease. Apart from routine open heart procedures, he has a special expertise in extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) procedures and patent ductus arteriosus (PDA) ligation in extremely premature babies. He also has a keen interest in studying clinical outcomes after pediatric heart surgery. His research projects have included analysis of the United Network of Organ Sharing (UNOS) and the Pediatric Health Information System® (PHIS) databases, and his research has resulted in numerous presentations at national and international meetings. Dr. Ramakrishnan is currently the principal investigator at Children’s National for the Pediatric Heart Transplant Study (PHTS) group and the study coordinator for the Congenital Heart Surgeons’ Society (CHSS) studies. He also is a member of the PHTS working group on the surveillance and diagnosis of cellular rejection, and his clinical studies have resulted in several publications in top peer-reviewed journals.

Drs. Yerebakan and Ramakrishanan join Richard Jonas, M.D., Co-director of Children’s National Heart Institute and Chief of Cardiac Surgery, and Pranava Sinha, M.D., on the Cardiac Surgery attending staff.  We look forward to continuing to strengthen our program with the addition of these physicians.