Cardiology & Heart Surgery

US News badges

For fifth year in a row, Children’s National Hospital nationally ranked a top 10 children’s hospital

US News badges

Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C., was ranked in the top 10 nationally in the U.S. News & World Report 2021-22 Best Children’s Hospitals annual rankings. This marks the fifth straight year Children’s National has made the Honor Roll list, which ranks the top 10 children’s hospitals nationwide. In addition, its neonatology program, which provides newborn intensive care, ranked No.1 among all children’s hospitals for the fifth year in a row.

For the eleventh straight year, Children’s National also ranked in all 10 specialty services, with seven specialties ranked in the top 10.

“It is always spectacular to be named one of the nation’s best children’s hospitals, but this year more than ever,” says Kurt Newman, M.D., president and CEO of Children’s National. “Every member of our organization helped us achieve this level of excellence, and they did it while sacrificing so much in order to help our country respond to and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“When choosing a hospital for a sick child, many parents want specialized expertise, convenience and caring medical professionals,” said Ben Harder, chief of health analysis and managing editor at U.S. News. “The Best Children’s Hospitals rankings have always highlighted hospitals that excel in specialized care. As the pandemic continues to affect travel, finding high-quality care close to home has never been more important.”

The annual rankings are the most comprehensive source of quality-related information on U.S. pediatric hospitals. The rankings recognize the nation’s top 50 pediatric hospitals based on a scoring system developed by U.S. News. The top 10 scorers are awarded a distinction called the Honor Roll.

The bulk of the score for each specialty service is based on quality and outcomes data. The process includes a survey of relevant specialists across the country, who are asked to list hospitals they believe provide the best care for patients with the most complex conditions.

Below are links to the seven Children’s National specialty services that U.S. News ranked in the top 10 nationally:

The other three specialties ranked among the top 50 were cardiology and heart surgerygastroenterology and gastro-intestinal surgery, and urology.

doctor listening to girl's heart

Decision support tool for chest pain reduces unnecessary cardiology referrals

doctor listening to girl's heart

A new study in the journal Medical Decision Making reports how well a new decision-support tool assisted pediatricians to apply validated criteria and reduce referrals to cardiology for children with chest pain.

In 2017, cardiologists from Children’s National Hospital and other centers published criteria to reliably detect risk for cardiac disease in children presenting with chest pain. However, despite the validated criteria published more than three years ago, as many as half of the children with chest pain who are referred to cardiology from a primary care doctor continue not to meet these criteria.

In response, the cardiology and Children’s National Pediatricians & Associates (CNP&A) team developed a decision support tool based on the validated criteria that was then incorporated into the CNP&A electronic medical record. A study, Promoting Judicious Primary Care Referral of Patients with Chest Pain to Cardiology: A Quality Improvement Initiative, in the journal Medical Decision Making reports how well the tool assisted pediatricians to apply the criteria and reduced referrals to cardiology for children who do not meet criteria for consultation by a pediatric cardiac specialist.

“As stated by the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, improving the U.S. health care system requires simultaneous pursuit of three aims: improving the experience of care, improving the health of populations and reducing per capita costs of health care. Known as the Triple Aim, such improvement includes reducing referrals to specialists for conditions that could be managed in primary care. Fewer unnecessary referrals can reduce costs by decreasing unnecessary testing and specialist time and also has the potential to improve the patient experience by providing care in the medical home,” the authors note.

The study highlights the results of a focused healthcare improvement initiative that engaged pediatricians, nurses, trainees and nurse practitioners at primary care practices to implement the new decision support tool. With the tool in place, the team saw a 71% reduction (from 17% referred to 5% referred) in cardiology referrals for children presenting to cardiology who did not meet the criteria for a referral. At almost one year of follow up, the reduction in referrals based on the criteria did not lead to any missed detections of potential life-threatening events, either.

“This study shows that patients presenting with chest pain who do not meet clinical criteria for referral can be safely and confidently managed at their medical home by their primary care provider,” says Ashraf Harahsheh, M.D., director of Quality Outcomes in Cardiology at Children’s National Heart Institute, who led the study with colleagues. “Avoiding unnecessary referrals to cardiology may help prevent missed work and school days for families and children and will also make sure that the children who truly need a cardiology evaluation can be evaluated quickly.”

This collaboration between our specialty colleagues and primary care clinicians improves care for our patients by bringing an evidence-based approach to managing a condition in a manner that reduces the burden of anxiety for families by addressing their concerns in their medical home,” adds Ellen Hamburger, M.D., study co-author and medical director of the Pediatric Health Network.

After the success of the project at Children’s National Hospital in partnership with the CNP&A, the team is now in talks with UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and Phoenix Children’s Care Network to expand the quality improvement initiative to their primary care networks as well.

Ashraf S Harahsheh, Ellen K Hamburger, Lena Saleh, Lexi M Crawford, Edward Sepe, Ariel Dubelman, Lena Baram, Kathleen M Kadow, Christina Driskill, Kathy Prestidge, James E Bost, Deena Berkowitz. Promoting Judicious Primary Care Referral of Patients with Chest Pain to Cardiology: A Quality Improvement Initiative. Med Decis Making. 2021 Mar 3;272989X21991445. Online ahead of print. DOI: 10.1177/0272989X21991445

video still of Dr. Yves d'Udekem

A conversation with Yves d’Udekem, M.D., Ph.D.

Dr. Yves d’Udekem discusses his background, the history of pediatric cardiovascular surgery and his vision for the future.

PeriTorq, a catheter grip tool for use during pediatric cardiac interventional procedures

Five finalists selected in prestigious pediatric medical device pitch competition

Electrophysiology device innovators gain access to pediatric accelerator and will compete in September 2021 final showcase.

pregnant hispanic woman

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.

little girl at the dentist

Limit antibiotic use before dental procedures to high-risk heart patients, says AHA

little girl at the dentist

A new scientific statement from the American Heart Association (AHA) says that good oral hygiene and regular dental care are the most important ways to reduce the risk of a heart infection called infective endocarditis (IE) caused by bacteria in the mouth.

A new scientific statement from the American Heart Association (AHA) says that good oral hygiene and regular dental care are the most important ways to reduce the risk of a heart infection called infective endocarditis (IE) caused by bacteria in the mouth. The statement was published in Circulation, the AHA’s flagship journal.

This statement addresses the impact of the major changes made in the 2007 AHA infective endocarditis (IE) guidelines that limited antibiotic prophylaxis (AP) prior to dental procedures to cardiac conditions at highest risk of complications from endocarditis by focusing on the following:

  • What was the acceptance of and compliance with the 2007 recommendations?
  • Was there an increased incidence of viridians group streptococci (VGS) infective endocarditis (IE)?
  • Were the recommendations from the guideline valid and should they be revised?

While the statement speaks to all types of heart disease, one area of particular interest in congenital heart disease was highlighted by statement co-author Craig Sable, M.D., F.A.H.A., associate division chief of Cardiology at Children’s National Hospital.

He noted that the statement specifies that children and adult congenital heart patients undergoing pulmonary valve replacement can be at higher risk for IE. The most significant risk factor for IE is the material the valve is made from, regardless of whether it is placed by surgery or catheterization.

Read more about this statement from the AHA

Watch AHA’s video explaining the statement, which features Dr. Sable.

chest x-ray showing pacemaker

Medical device pitch competition focuses on pediatric electrophysiology devices for CHD

chest x-ray showing pacemaker

While the last decade brought great advances in technologies that improve the care of adult arrhythmias, pediatric patients have been left behind, with only five devices approved for use in children in the same period.

Congenital heart disease (CHD) affects six out of 1,000 babies born in the U.S. each year and is often complicated by arrhythmias, a condition where the heart beats too rapidly, too slowly or irregularly due to a misfiring of the body’s electrical impulses. While the last decade brought great advances in technologies that improve the care of adult arrhythmias, pediatric patients have been left behind, with only five devices approved for use in children in the same period. As a result, pediatric specialists are often using off-label or improvised devices to treat pediatric arrhythmias, including the smallest newborns.

Recognizing this unmet need, the National Capital Consortium for Pediatric Device Innovation (NCC-PDI), in collaboration with MedTech Innovator, is accepting applications through April 12, 2021, for its annual “Make Your Medical Device Pitch for Kids!” competition. This year’s competition focuses on innovations in pediatric devices that treat CHD, with an emphasis on electrophysiology devices such as pacemaker systems, ablation catheters, wearable monitoring devices and related technologies that address arrhythmias in children.

“NCC-PDI was created, with the support of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), to seek out and address significant unmet needs in pediatric medical devices,” says Kolaleh Eskandanian, Ph.D., M.B.A., P.M.P., vice president and chief innovation officer at Children’s National Hospital and principal investigator of NCC-PDI. “We have learned from the experts that pediatric-specific technologies for treating arrhythmias would be a game changer in the care of their patients, so we are focusing our competition and grant awards on this opportunity.”

Kolaleh-Eskandanian

“We have learned from the experts that pediatric-specific technologies for treating arrhythmias would be a game changer in the care of their patients, so we are focusing our competition and grant awards on this opportunity,” says Kolaleh Eskandanian, Ph.D., M.B.A., P.M.P., vice president and chief innovation officer at Children’s National Hospital and principal investigator of NCC-PDI.

Using a virtual format, semi-finalists chosen from all submissions will make their first pitch on May 12, 2021. Up to 10 finalists selected from this event earn participation in a special pediatric-focused track of the MedTech Innovator accelerator program, the largest medtech accelerator in the world, beginning in June 2021. These innovators then participate in the pediatric competition finals in September 2021 where judges will award up to $150,000 in FDA-sponsored grants to the devices selected as most impactful and commercially viable.

How significant is the need for pediatric devices to address arrhythmias? In a recent survey of members conducted by the Pediatric and Congenital Electrophysiology Society (PACES), the vast majority (96%) said they believe there is a deficiency in devices available to serve the needs of pediatric patients. Conducted with the U.S.FDA, the survey also asked respondents to identify the biggest unmet need, which physicians identified as cardiovascular implantable electronic devices that are smaller, have better battery life and have pediatric-specific algorithms. Specifically, a leadless pacemaker designed for pediatric care was consistently on the most-wanted list.

NCC-PDI is one of five members in the FDA’s Pediatric Device Consortia Grant Program created to support the development and commercialization of medical devices for children, which lags significantly behind the advancement of adult medical devices. NCC-PDI is led by the Sheikh Zayed Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation at Children’s National Hospital and the A. James Clark School of Engineering at the University of Maryland with support from partners MedTech Innovator, BioHealth Innovation and design firm Archimedic.

Eskandanian says that enhancing access to resources for pediatric innovators is also one of the aims of the Children’s National Research & Innovation Campus, a first-of-its-kind focused on pediatric health care innovation, with the first phase currently open on the former Walter Reed Army Medical Center campus in Washington, D.C. With its proximity to federal research institutions and agencies, universities, academic research centers, as well as on-site incubator Johnson and Johnson Innovation – JLABS, the campus provides a rich ecosystem of public and private partners which, like the NCC-PDI network, will help bolster pediatric innovation and commercialization.

For more information and to apply for the upcoming NCC-PDI pitch competition, visit the NCC-PDI website.

 

newborn baby

Study suggests chronic hypoxia delays cardiac maturation in CHD

newborn baby

Every year, nearly 40,000 babies are born with a congenital heart defect (CHD) — the leading cause of birth defect-associated infant illness and death.

Every year, nearly 40,000 babies are born with a congenital heart defect (CHD) — the leading cause of birth defect-associated infant illness and death. An event that may contribute to cyanotic CHD is the lack of oxygen, known as hypoxia, before and after birth, impacting gene expression and cardiac function that delay postnatal cardiac maturation, according to a new pre-clinical model led by researchers at Children’s National Hospital.

Single ventricle, transposition of the great arteries, truncus arteriosus and severe forms of tetralogy of Fallot, such cyanotic congenital heart diseases have lower circulating blood oxygen levels. The lack of oxygen in the blood begins prenatally and continues after birth until definitive repair, suggesting a delay on cardiac maturation.

There is little research on the underpinnings that explain the lack of oxygen’s effects on the developing heart, which could help inform adequate therapies in the pediatric population to promote cardiovascular health across the lifetime. The researchers developed the first pre-clinical model that explores the effects of chronic hypoxia in perinatal and postnatal stages on the developing heart under conditions seen in cyanotic CHD.

“To the best of our knowledge, ours is the first study to perform complete gene expression arrays on animals after perinatal hypoxia,” said Jennifer Romanowicz, senior noninvasive imaging fellow at Boston Children’s Hospital and lead author of the study. “Not only did these studies allow us to determine the effects of hypoxia on heart development, but the detailed results of our study will be available to other researchers to independently address other questions about perinatal hypoxia and heart development.”

The study published in the American Journal of Physiology: Heart and Circulatory Physiology suggests that chronic lack of oxygen alters the electrical properties of heart tissue, called the electrophysiological substrate, and the contractile apparatus, a muscle composed of proteins that control cardiac contraction. Multiple genes involved with the contractile apparatus were expressed differently in the non-human subjects.

“What was remarkable was that most abnormalities normalized after the animals recovered in normal oxygen levels,” said Romanowicz. “This is an optimistic sign that early repair of cyanotic congenital heart disease may allow the heart to finish development.”

The researchers placed pregnant non-human subjects in hypoxic chambers starting on embryonic day 16, mimicking the second trimester in humans. The same subjects gave birth in the hypoxic chambers, and the newborns were kept there until postnatal day eight when the heart muscle maturation is nearly complete. To understand how human infants recover with normalized oxygen levels after surgical repair of cyanotic CHD, the researchers moved hypoxic subjects to normal oxygen conditions for recovery and tested again at postnatal day 30.

“Next steps include using a pre-clinical model of cyanotic congenital heart disease that more accurately represents human neonatal physiology,” said Devon Guerrelli, Ph.D. candidate at Children’s National. We plan to work with the cardiac surgery team at Children’s National to investigate changes in the myocardium due to hypoxia in pediatric patients who are undergoing surgical repair.”

Nikki Posnack, Ph.D., principal investigator at Sheikh Zayed Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation and Nobuyuki Ishibashi, M.D., director of Cardiac Surgery Research Laboratory at Children’s National, led and guided the team of researchers involved in the study.

Dr. Martin interacts with a patient

Gerard Martin, M.D., F.A.C.C, recognized with American College of Cardiology top honor

Dr. Martin interacts with a patient

Gerard Martin, M.D., F.A.C.C., has been awarded the 2021 Master of the ACC Award by the American College of Cardiology in honor of contributions to the cardiovascular profession.

Gerard Martin, M.D., F.A.C.C., has been awarded the 2021 Master of the ACC Award by the American College of Cardiology in honor of contributions to the cardiovascular profession. Dr. Martin will be recognized for these achievements along with all 2021 Distinguished Award winners during Convocation at the hybrid 70th Annual Scientific Session & Expo taking place May 15-17, 2021 in Atlanta and virtually.

“Dr. Martin has made lasting contributions to the field of cardiovascular medicine through his dedication to improving cardiovascular health and enhancing patient care,” said ACC President Athena Poppas, MD, F.A.C.C. “It is an honor to be able to recognize Dr. Martin with the Master of the ACC Award and celebrate his tremendous achievements in the cardiovascular field.”

The Master of the ACC (MACC) Award recognizes and honors fellows of the American College of Cardiology who have consistently contributed to the goals and programs of the college and who have provided leadership in important college activities. MACC designees have been members of the college for at least 15 years and have served with distinction and provided leadership on various college programs and committees. Only four distinguished members of the American College of Cardiology are selected for this honor each year.

Dr. Martin is a cardiologist at Children’s National Hospital, where he has been in practice since 1986. He founded the Children’s National Heart Institute in 2004 and was named the C. Richard Beyda Professor of Cardiology in 2007. He has published over 150 peer-reviewed manuscripts, book chapters and invited publications and has presented abstracts at over 125 meetings. Dr. Martin is an invited lecturer who has traveled to over 200 meetings, hospitals and universities within the U.S. and around the world.

Dr. Martin is an advocate for congenital heart disease (CHD) efforts nationally and internationally. He played integral roles in the development and dissemination of critical congenital heart disease screening in using pulse oximetry — a practice that is now standard for all newborns across the United States. He also has volunteered on countless medical missions to developing countries.

Dr. Martin is board-certified in pediatric cardiology, a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Cardiology and is also a member of the Society for Pediatric Research and the American Board of Pediatrics.

Nineteen Distinguished Awards will be presented at ACC.21 this year, each recognizing an individual who has made outstanding contributions to the field of cardiovascular medicine. Recipients are nominated by their peers and then selected by the American College of Cardiology Awards Committee.

The American College of Cardiology envisions a world where innovation and knowledge optimize cardiovascular care and outcomes. As the professional home for the entire cardiovascular care team, the mission of the College and its 54,000 members is to transform cardiovascular care and to improve heart health. The ACC bestows credentials upon cardiovascular professionals who meet stringent qualifications and leads in the formation of health policy, standards and guidelines. The College also provides professional medical education, disseminates cardiovascular research through its world-renowned JACC Journals, operates national registries to measure and improve care, and offers cardiovascular accreditation to hospitals and institutions. For more, visit acc.org.

illustration of brain with stem cells

Innovative phase 1 trial to protect brains of infants with CHD during and after surgery

A novel phase 1 trial looking at how best to optimize brain development of babies with congenital heart disease (CHD) is currently underway at Children’s National Hospital.

Children with CHD sometimes demonstrate delay in the development of cognitive and motor skills. This can be a result of multiple factors including altered prenatal oxygen delivery, brain blood flow and genetic factors associated with surgery including exposure to cardiopulmonary bypass, also known as the heart lung machine.

This phase 1 trial is the first to deliver mesenchymal stromal cells from bone marrow manufactured in a lab (BM-MSC) into infants already undergoing cardiac surgery via cardiopulmonary bypass. The hypothesis is that by directly infusing the MSCs into the blood flow to the brain, more MSCs quickly and efficiently reach the subventricular zone and other areas of the brain that are prone to inflammation. The trial is open to eligible patients ages newborn to six months of age.


Learn more in this overview video.

The trial is part of a $2.5 million, three-year grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) led by Richard Jonas, M.D.Catherine Bollard, M.B.Ch.B., M.D., and Nobuyuki Ishibashi, M.D.. The project involves collaboration between the Prenatal Cardiology program of Children’s National Heart Institute, the Center for Cancer and Immunology Research, the Center for Neuroscience Research and the Sheikh Zayed Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation.

“NIH supported studies in our laboratory have shown that MSC therapy may be extremely helpful in improving brain development in animal models after cardiac surgery,” says Dr. Ishibashi. “MSC infusion can help reduce inflammation including prolonged microglia activation that can occur during surgery that involves the heart lung machine.”

Staff from the Cellular Therapy Laboratory, led by director Patrick Hanley, Ph.D., manufactured the BM-MSC at the Center for Cancer and Immunology Research, led by Dr. Bollard.

The phase 1 safety study will set the stage for a phase 2 effectiveness trial of this highly innovative MSC treatment aimed at reducing brain damage, minimizing neurodevelopmental disabilities and improving the postoperative course in children with CHD. The resulting improvement in developmental outcome and lessened behavioral impairment will be of enormous benefit to individuals with CHD.

For more information about this new treatment, contact the clinical research team: Gil Wernovsky, M.D., Shriprasad Deshpande, M.D., Maria Fortiz.

Asha Moudgil examines patient

Social determinants of cardiovascular health in African American children with CKD

Asha Moudgil examines patient

In a recent study, Asha Moudgil, M.D., and colleagues looked at differences in socioeconomic factors and subclinical cardiovascular disease markers by race in chronic kidney disease patients.

Children with chronic kidney disease (CKD) are known to have an increased risk for cardiovascular (CV) disease. African American children with CKD are also disproportionately affected by socioeconomic disadvantages related to systemic racism.

In a recent analysis of 3,103 visits from 628 children enrolled in the Chronic Kidney Disease in Children (CKiD) study, Children’s National Hospital researchers Kristen Sgambat, Ph.D., and Asha Moudgil, M.D., and their colleagues found that African American children with CKD had increased left ventricular mass index, more ambulatory hypertension and differences in lipid profile compared with Caucasian children. After adjusting for socioeconomic factors (public health insurance, household income, maternal education, food insecurity, abnormal birth history), a trend towards attenuation of the differences in these CV markers was observed.

The authors of the study conclude that, “as many social determinants of health were not captured by our study, future research should examine effects of systemic racism on CV health in this population.”

Read the full study in the American Journal of Kidney Diseases.

close up of an IV bag

Carnitine may improve heart function in children receiving CRRT

close up of an IV bag

A first-of-its-kind study demonstrated that IV carnitine supplementation is associated with improvement in myocardial strain and repletion of plasma total and free carnitine in children with AKI receiving CRRT.

Supplementation of a special nutrient could help improve heart function in children receiving continuous dialysis in critical care units. The nutrient carnitine plays an essential role in producing energy for use by heart and skeletal muscles. Critically ill children with acute kidney dysfunction often need a continuous dialysis therapy (also known as CRRT, continuous renal replacement therapy) to help remove toxins while kidneys are not working. An unintended consequence of this CRRT is removal of carnitine. Often these critically ill children are unable to eat by mouth and therefore can’t receive carnitine unless it is supplemented. Children’s National Hospital researchers have proven that intravenous carnitine supplementation is associated with repletion of the body’s carnitine supply and may cause improvement in heart function as shown by heart strain analysis (which detects subclinical cardiac dysfunction that may not be apparent by traditional echocardiography).

In a first-of-its-kind study, the Children’s National researchers, Asha Moudgil, M.D., Kristen Sgambat, M.D., and Sarah Clauss, M.D., investigated carnitine deficiency in children receiving CRRT. They demonstrated for the first time that these children become severely deficient in carnitine after being on CRRT for >1 week, and that carnitine supplementation is associated with carnitine repletion and improved heart function. This knowledge can help to guide clinical care, as carnitine can be easily added to the IV nutritional formulations that are typically given to these patients.

Although little was previously known about carnitine status in patients with acute kidney injury (AKI) receiving CRRT, iatrogenic carnitine deficiency related to chronic hemodialysis (HD) in patients with end stage renal disease is a well-known phenomenon. It was theorized that given the continuous removal of solutes by CRRT in combination with lack of dietary intake and impaired production of endogenous carnitine by the kidney in critically ill children with AKI, carnitine would be rapidly depleted.

The latest controlled pilot study (NCT01941823) of 48 children hypothesized that carnitine supplementation would improve left ventricular function in children receiving CRRT. Children ages 1-21 years with AKI requiring CRRT, who were admitted to the pediatric intensive care unit at Children’s National Hospital from 2015 to 2018 were eligible to prospectively enroll in the “CRRT Intervention group,” if they were total parenteral nutrition (TPN)-dependent and not receiving any enteral or IV carnitine prior to enrollment.

The researchers say that “An exciting collaborative effort between nephrology and cardiology made it possible to use a sophisticated technology known as speckle tracking imaging to study the effects of carnitine on heart in this population.” This technology can identify early changes in heart motion, also known as cardiac strain that may not be detected using standard heart imaging techniques.

This is the first study to demonstrate that IV carnitine supplementation is associated with improvement in myocardial strain and repletion of plasma total and free carnitine in children with AKI receiving CRRT. A cohort of pediatric chronic HD patients demonstrated similar benefits in a prior study conducted by Drs. Moudgil and Sgambat. Compared with chronic HD, carnitine is even more rapidly depleted by CRRT, with losses approximating 80% of intake. The effect of carnitine deficiency and supplementation on cardiovascular function in patients receiving CRRT had not been previously investigated.

The pilot study by Drs. Moudgil, Sgambat, and Clauss was single center and limited by small sample size. The small sample size may have limited the ability to detect significant differences in demographics and clinical characteristics and multivariable analyses could not be performed. However, given that it is a pilot study, the findings provide a solid launching point for future investigations to show how supplementation can be best utilized to optimize cardiac outcomes in children receiving CRRT.

Lee Beers

Lee Beers, M.D., F.A.A.P, begins term as AAP president

Lee Beers

“The past year has been a stark reminder about the importance of partnership and working together toward common goals,” says Dr. Beers. “I am humbled and honored to be taking on this role at such a pivotal moment for the future health and safety of not only children, but the community at large.”

Lee Savio Beers, M.D., F.A.A.P., medical director of Community Health and Advocacy at the Child Health Advocacy Institute (CHAI) at Children’s National Hospital, has begun her term as president of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). The AAP is an organization of 67,000 pediatricians committed to the optimal physical, mental and social health and well-being for all children – from infancy to adulthood.

“The past year has been a stark reminder about the importance of partnership and working together toward common goals,” says Dr. Beers. “I am humbled and honored to be taking on this role at such a pivotal moment for the future health and safety of not only children, but the community at large.”

Dr. Beers has pledged to continue AAP’s advocacy and public policy efforts and to further enhance membership diversity and inclusion. Among her signature issues:

  • Partnering with patients, families, communities, mental health providers and pediatricians to co-design systems to bolster children’s resiliency and to alleviate growing pediatric mental health concerns.
  • Continuing to support pediatricians during the COVID-19 pandemic with a focus on education, pediatric practice support, vaccine delivery systems and physician wellness.
  • Implementation of the AAP’s Equity Agenda and Year 1 Equity Workplan.

Dr. Beers is looking forward to continuing her work bringing together the diverse voices of pediatricians, children and families as well as other organizations to support improving the health of all children.

“Dr. Beers has devoted her career to helping children,” says Kurt Newman, M.D., president and chief executive officer of Children’s National. “She has developed a national advocacy platform for children and will be of tremendous service to children within AAP national leadership.”

Read more about Dr. Beer’s career and appointment as president of the AAP.

stethoscope and stress ball in heart shape

First registry specifically for adult congenital heart disease launches

stethoscope and stress ball in heart shape

Although nearly 2 million adults in the United States are living with a congenital heart defect, it’s been historically difficult to gather data on these conditions and to identify patient needs. To address this challenge, Children’s National Hospital and the Heart Research Alliance, in partnership with the Adult Congenital Heart Association and University of California San Francisco, developed the Congenital Heart Initiative, a registry specifically for adult congenital heart disease (ACHD) patients.

The Congenital Heart Initiative aims to:

  • Understand how to improve the quality of life for adults with congenital heart defects
  • Improve our understanding of the ACHD population for patients, providers and researchers
  • Inform future research projects of needs within the ACHD community
  • Spur innovation within congenital heart disease treatment
  • Fundamentally change the way America understands and cares for ACHD patients

The registry will collect data from brief surveys sent to enrollees every six months, which will be used to gain a deeper understanding of the experiences of ACHD patients. By reshaping the way that ACHD is understood by both patients and clinicians, the registry can improve the lives and futures of adults living with congenital heart defects.

“Our long-term goal is to develop a platform for everyone in the community to come together and learn more about CHD,” says Anitha John, M.D., Ph.D., medical director of the Washington Adult Congenital Heart Program at Children’s National, who led development of this initiative. “We hope that this effort will be the start of a resource to allow patients and researchers to come together and learn more, together, about congenital heart disease.”

Children’s National Hospital is joined in this effort by six other U.S. organizations, including:

  • University of California San Francisco
  • Heart Research Alliance (formerly the Health eHeart Alliance)
  • Adult Congenital Heart Disease Cause Group
  • Eureka
  • Adult Congenital Heart Association (ACHA)
  • Alliance for Adult Research in Congenital Cardiology (AARCC)

Several other organizations serve as advisors to the initiative, including:

  • National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI)
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
  • American College of Cardiology, Adult Congenital & Pediatric Cardiology (ACPC) Section
  • Cardiac Networks United

People with congenital heart disease who are 18 years of age or older may enroll in the registry and volunteer to participate in research conducted within the initiative. Learn more at: https://chi.eurekaplatform.org.

Dr. Craig Sable

AHA doubles down on global support, prevention and research in rheumatic heart disease

Dr. Craig Sable

Dr. Craig Sable and pediatric cardiology colleagues led the creation of a scientific statement and advocacy statement focused on eradicating RHD.

A pair of articles appearing in the American Heart Association’s (AHA) journal Circulation lays out a call to action for advocacy and scientific priorities crucial to the global eradication of rheumatic heart disease (RHD).

Cardiologists from Children’s National Hospital, and others who completed their pediatric cardiology fellowships at Children’s National before moving on to careers at other institutions, have been active proponents and advocates for these efforts for many years and led key research and clinical care efforts related to RHD in other countries of the world.

These cardiologists, including the associate chief of cardiology at Children’s National, Craig Sable, M.D., who previously served as chair of the AHA Council on Lifelong Congenital Heart Disease and Heart Health in the Young, also helped lead the creation of these new published statements.

Contemporary diagnosis and management of rheumatic heart disease: Implications for closing the gap

This clinical and research statement “seeks to examine the current state of-the-art recommendations and to identify gaps in diagnosis and treatment globally that can inform strategies for reducing disease burden.”

Key recommendations and related challenges were mapped out, including:

  • The need for echocardiography screening based on World Heart Federation echocardiographic criteria for identifying patients earlier, when prophylaxis is more likely to be effective. However, the authors note that several important questions need to be answered before this can translate into public policy.
  • The creation of population-based registries to effectively enable optimal care and secondary penicillin prophylaxis within available resources, though the team acknowledges that challenges with penicillin procurement and concern with adverse reactions in patients with advanced disease remain important issues.
  • Heart failure management, prevention, early diagnosis and treatment of endocarditis, oral anticoagulation for atrial fibrillation and prosthetic valves used as vital therapeutic adjuncts.
  • Multidisciplinary team management of health of women with unoperated and operated rheumatic heart disease before, during and after pregnancy is the best approach, though it is a significant challenge.
  • Percutaneous balloon mitral valvuloplasty should be considered for patients with isolated mitral stenosis.
  • Timely heart valve surgery, especially valve repair for rheumatic mitral regurgitation, can mitigate the progression to heart failure, disability and death. However, some of these procedures are not available to the vast majority of patients in endemic regions.

The recommendations made in the scientific statement form the foundation for the advocacy companion document.

The AHA’s call to action for reducing the global burden of rheumatic heart disease: a policy statement from the AHA

The advocacy statement outlines five key areas of support:

  1. Professional healthcare worker education and training.
  2. Technical support for the implementation of evidence-based strategies for rheumatic fever/RHD prevention.
  3. Access to essential medications and technologies.
  4. Research.
  5. Advocacy to increase global awareness, resources and capacity for RHD control.

The authors write, “In bolstering the efforts of the American Heart Association to combat RHD, we hope to inspire others to collaborate, communicate and contribute.”

Speaking of the two statements as a whole, the authors of the scientific statement conclude that, “Ultimately, the combination of expanded treatment options, research and advocacy built on existing knowledge and science provides the best opportunity to address the burden of rheumatic heart disease.”

Read more about Children’s National Heart Institute’s research, education and clinical care in rheumatic heart disease.

Craig Sable, M.D., Associate Chief of the Division of Cardiology and Director of Echocardiography at Children’s National Health System, is working with hundreds of doctors to create a scalable solution to reduce the global burden of rheumatic heart disease (RHD). Dr. Sable received a lifetime achievement award — the 2018 Cardiovascular Disease in the Young (CVDY) Meritorious Achievement Award — from the American Heart Association for his work in Uganda.

Mended Little Hearts’ Volunteer of the Year, Maryann Mayhood, and her son Joseph delivered the Hospital of the Year award to Dr. Donofrio in November 2020.

Mended Little Hearts names Children’s National Hospital as ‘Hospital of the Year’

Mended Little Hearts’ Volunteer of the Year, Maryann Mayhood, and her son Joseph delivered the Hospital of the Year award to Dr. Donofrio in November 2020.

Mended Little Hearts’ Volunteer of the Year, Maryann Mayhood, and her son Joseph delivered the Hospital of the Year award to Dr. Donofrio in November 2020.

Children’s National Hospital was named Hospital of the Year by Mended Little Hearts, one of the top organizations in the U.S. for patients with congenital heart disease and their families. Children’s National was selected as the Hospital of the Year across all divisions of the Mended Little Hearts national network and the Washington, D.C. region. The hospital is recognized with the award for its efforts to empower Mended Little Hearts volunteers and make it possible for the group to provide peer support and education to children and adults with congenital heart disease, their families and the surrounding communities.

“It’s an honor to be recognized as a champion by a group like Mended Little Hearts that truly represents the voices and needs of patients and their families. We embrace and encourage their work because we know that providing the best care for children and their families goes beyond simply outstanding clinical service,” says Charles Berul, M.D., chief of Cardiology and co-director of the Children’s National Heart Institute. “We are privileged to have a group of dedicated volunteers from Mended Little Hearts who are willing to work side-by-side with our team to share peer support, education and guidance for our families at Children’s National.”

Though many in-person activities are currently on hold or held virtually for the health and safety of everyone during the COVID-19 public health emergency, Children’s National and Mended Little Hearts continue to coordinate closely together to support families as much as possible by making virtual connections and via the Mended Little Hearts “Bravery Bags,” which are given to every family and include personal essentials for a hospital stay as well as important guidance such as questions to ask care providers and how to seek more information about the care plan.

For the last few years, the hospital has also provided space within the hospital for the group to host family breakfasts and other events, making sure families have access to the information and support items they need during a hospital stay. They are also welcomed to many of the hospital’s annual events for adults and children with congenital heart disease and their families, to connect and share experiences.

“We are honored to recognize Children’s National Hospital for the outstanding work they have done to support heart patients and their families,” said Mended Hearts Inc. President Ron Manriquez. “That they have won this award is proof of the deep commitment they have to their members, families and the community at large. We are grateful for the work they do to support the Mended Little Hearts mission.”

Mended Little Hearts and its parent group, Mended Hearts, are organizations that inspire hope and seek to improve the quality of life for heart patients and their families through ongoing peer-to-peer support.

pile of plastic bottles

The linkage between chemicals used in plastics and cardiovascular disease

pile of plastic bottles

For people across the globe, plastics are synonymous with modern life and it’s impossible to avoid exposure to them, including clinical environments where a variety of frequently used materials, such as tubing and blood storage bags, are made from plastics.

For people across the globe, plastics are synonymous with modern life and it’s impossible to avoid exposure to them, including clinical environments where a variety of frequently used materials, such as tubing and blood storage bags, are made from plastics. Led by Nikki Posnack, Ph.D, principal investigator at The Sheikh Zayed Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation at Children’s National Hospital, a team of Children’s National researchers has been studying the potential effects of chemicals found in plastics, such as BPA and DEHP, as possible contributors to cardiovascular disease.

Along with conducting proprietary studies of the potential effects, Posnack and her team recently reviewed available scientific studies to further identify and illuminate the potential links between exposure to the synthetic additives contained in plastics and cardiovascular mortality. The article was published this month in Nature Reviews Cardiology.

In the article Posnack cites a 10-year longitudinal study with the finding that high exposure to BPA was associated with a 46-49% higher hazard ratio for cardiovascular and all-cause mortality, compared with low exposure to BPA.

“Plastics may be indispensable materials, but their ubiquity does raise concerns about the effects of our continuous exposure to plasticizer additives like di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) and synthetic chemicals used to create polymers like BPA,” said Posnack. “Although disease causation can be difficult to pinpoint in population and epidemiological studies, experimental work has clearly demonstrated a direct link to plastic chemicals and cardiac dysfunction. It is clear that future collaborative endeavors are necessary to bridge the gap between experimental, epidemiological and clinical investigations to resolve the impact of plastics on cardiovascular health.”

Nikki Gillum Posnack

Nikki Posnack, Ph.D, principal investigator at The Sheikh Zayed Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation at Children’s National Hospital.

Posnack added that, given the omnipresence of plastics and their related chemicals, biomonitoring studies have reported detectable levels of DEHP and BPA in 75-90% of the population. Occupational or clinical environments can also result in elevated exposures to these dangerous chemicals. Previous epidemiological studies have reported links between elevated urinary levels of phthalate or bisphenol, common additives in plastic, and an increased risk of coronary and peripheral artery disease, chronic inflammation, myocardial infarction, angina, suppressed heart rate variability and hypertension.

Additionally, available research has shown that incomplete polymerization or degradation of BPA-based plastic products can result in unsafe human exposure to BPA. Despite these links, the article points out, both BPA and DEHP are still manufactured in high volumes and are used to produce a wide variety of consumer and commercial products.

Further exploring implications for pediatrics, a June 2020 article published by Posnack in Birth Defects Research looks at the potential effects of plastic chemicals on the cardiovascular health of fetal, infant and pediatric groups. The article highlighted experimental work that suggests plasticizer chemicals such as bisphenols and phthalates may exert negative influence on pediatric cardiovascular health. The article systematically called out areas of concern supported by research findings. Also addressing current gaps in knowledge, Posnack outlined future research endeavors that would be needed to resolve the relationship between chemical exposures and the impact on pediatric cardiovascular physiology.

In related work, Posnack and her team are expanding their work on plastics used in blood bags to also investigate the role of blood storage duration on health outcomes. A recently published first study demonstrates that “older” blood products (stored 35 or more days) directly impact cardiac electrophysiology, using experimental models. Published October 22, 2020 in the Journal of the American Heart Association, the study concludes that the cardiac effects are likely caused by biochemical alterations in the supernatant from red blood cell units that occur over time, including but not limited to, hyperkalemia (elevated potassium levels).

a telehealth video visit with a patient family

Steady rates of patient satisfaction, reimbursement for cardiac telehealth during COVID-19

a telehealth video visit with a patient family

In the first two weeks of COVID-19’s major impact on the U.S., Children’s National Hospital moved most of its subspecialty in-person day-to-day clinics to virtual care. Children’s National Heart Institute was one of the first divisions to offer telehealth visits — in part because the team was an early adopter of telehealth in cardiology for both physician-to-physician consultations and direct-to-patient care, and stood poised to widely implement it.

A poster presentation at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions 2020 quantified how the rapid transition to direct-to-consumer telehealth services impacted families with children who have congenital heart disease. The findings were presented by first author Kristine Mehrtens, M.S., B.S.N., R.N., C.P.N., clinical manager for the Heart Institute’s Ambulatory Services.

The team found that though in-person cardiology visits decreased during the COVID-19 pandemic, direct-to-patient telehealth visits were able to partially compensate for the sudden drop.

Additionally, payer reimbursement rates for these direct-to-consumer telehealth visits were similar to in-person clinic visits.

”This is exciting as prior to COVID-19  we have seen a lower reimbursement rates for these cardiology direct-to-consumer telehealth visits compared to in-person cardiology clinic visits,” said Ashraf S. Harahsheh, M.D., a pediatric cardiologist at Children’s National Hospital who has utilized direct-to-consumer telehealth visits since 2016 and is a senior author on the new study.

Patient satisfaction scores for care providers, including the likelihood of recommending a care provider from Children’s National Hospital, was the same for telehealth follow-up visits as it was for in-person clinic visits before the pandemic.

“As a multidisciplinary team, we agreed that diagnostic studies such as echocardiograms were important to include with follow-up visits,” says Mehrtens. “Together we developed a strategy to ensure we could meet the needs of the patients and also safely conduct in-person visits when necessary.”

Why is this important?

The pandemic and the resulting temporary halt to in-person, non-urgent/emergent visits earlier this year put the most vulnerable people with congenital heart disease at high risk for complications or worsening of their existing heart disease because they are unable to follow the recommended schedule for follow-ups.

The readiness of the Children’s Heart Institute team to quickly move to a telehealth platform successfully bridged the gap between in-person visits for some patients, allowing cardiology surveillance to continue safely.

“I am proud of our team of physicians and advanced care providers,” Harahsheh concludes. “We went from three providers (8%) pre-COVID 19 to 31 (79%) providers offering direct-to-consumer telehealth visits during the pandemic.”

What’s next?

Building on previous, smaller studies of telehealth before the pandemic began, the team will continue to conduct research to assess the safety and efficacy of these telehealth visits over time. The increase in patients who are continuing to see their providers for routine follow-ups via telehealth will allow a larger sample for effective study of this care model.

American Heart Association Scientific Sessions 2020
Impact of Telemedicine on Pediatric Cardiac Center’s Ambulatory Response to the 2019 Novel Coronavirus Disease (covid-19) Pandemic
P1692
9:00am – 10:00am
Fri, Nov 13  (CST)

Read additional news stories about cardiology telehealth:

newborn in ICU

Cardiac technology advances show promise for kids but only if right-sized

newborn in ICU

“Smaller patients, and those with congenital heart disease, can benefit from minimally-invasive methods of delivering pacemakers and defibrillators without the need for open-chest surgery,” says Charles Berul, M.D.

How to address the growing need for child-sized pacemakers and defibrillators, and finding better surgical techniques to place them, is the topic of an invited session called The Future is Now (or Coming Soon): Updates on New Technologies in Congenital Heart Care at the 2020 American Heart Association Scientific Sessions.

“Smaller patients, and those with congenital heart disease, can benefit from minimally-invasive methods of delivering pacemakers and defibrillators without the need for open-chest surgery,” says Charles Berul, M.D., co-director of the Children’s National Heart Institute and chief of Cardiology at Children’s National Hospital, who presented at the session.

“This unmet need can only be met by innovative pediatric research, geared towards miniaturization technologies for use in the smallest of children,” he says.

His presentation focused on the devices and approaches that have caught the attention of pediatric cardiology, such as pacemakers and subcutaneous defibrillators designed without lead wires, as well as less-invasive surgical approaches that may reduce recovery time for children with congenital heart disease who require these assist devices.

Using them in kids comes with added challenges, however. Often pediatric cardiologists have to be creative in how to make them work for smaller patients, Dr. Berul notes. This reiterates the important point that simply applying an adult technology to a child isn’t the right approach. The subcutaneous defibrillator, for example, is still pretty large for a child’s body. Some studies also show these devices may not be as accurate in children as in adults.

Investigators in the Sheikh Zayed Institute working together with the cardiologists at Children’s National Hospital are focused on product development and commercialization of tools and techniques to allow percutaneous minimally-invasive placement of devices, taking advantage of the newest devices and surgical techniques as they develop.

In his presentation, Dr. Berul stressed that as the technology for adults advances, it creates an opportunity for pediatric cardiology, but only if the devices, and the techniques to place them, are specifically redesigned for pediatric application.

American Heart Association Scientific Sessions 2020
The Future is Now (or Coming Soon): Updates on New Technologies in Congenital Heart Care – On Demand Session
CH.CVS.715
9:00am – 10:00am
Fri, Nov 13  (CST)

coronavirus

Single institution study finds high rates of cardiac complications in MIS-C

coronavirus

At this year’s AHA Scientific Sessions, cardiologists from Children’s National Hospital presented a poster about an interesting finding in children with MIS-C.

During the height of the pandemic, researchers at Children’s National Hospital discovered that as many as one half of children diagnosed with multisystem inflammatory disease in children (MIS-C) at the hospital developed cardiac complications including coronary artery abnormalities, even when diagnosed and treated promptly.

The data was shared as part of a poster presentation at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions in November 2020. Though analysis was limited to the data from one institution’s confirmed MIS-C cases, the findings are significant enough to warrant further study.

Interestingly, the authors noted that the high rate of cardiac complications far exceeds the rate of similar issues in children with Kawasaki disease — another pediatric inflammatory syndrome that shares many common symptoms with MIS-C. The two are so similar that immunomodulation therapies successfully deployed in children with MIS-C were based on those developed to treat Kawasaki disease.

Knowledge of common cardiac complications in Kawasaki disease also flagged the need for routine echocardiograms in patients with MIS-C, which helped identify the higher rates of cardiac complications seen in the MIS-C patient population.

“This finding, however, is another data point that shows how MIS-C and Kawasaki disease have some specific differences needing further study,” says Ashraf Harahsheh, M.D., a pediatric cardiologist at Children’s National Hospital who studies Kawasaki disease and the first author on the new study.

“Previous clinical advancements made in Kawasaki disease set the stage for our response to MIS-C early on,” he said. ”Now we also need to understand MIS-C as its own syndrome so we can better address what we are seeing in this patient population,” he says.

While most of the cardiac findings resolved during follow up, long-term studies are needed to determine if the cardiac abnormalities are associated with major cardiac events later.

“This work will help inform the community of the importance of diagnosing children with MIS-C promptly and following clinical guidelines for necessary tests and treatments once MIS-C is diagnosed,” Harahsheh concludes.

Next, the research team plans to take a deep dive into patient demographics as well as findings from clinical, laboratory and electrocardiogram data for children who developed cardiac complications with MIS-C. The goal will be to refine treatment algorithms and potentially identify a subgroup of patients who may require different or more intense therapy to prevent cardiac complications.

American Heart Association Scientific Sessions 2020 Poster Session
Cardiac Complications of SARS CoV-2 Associated Multi-System Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C)
P1306
9:00am – 10:00am
Fri, Nov 13 (CST)