Giving kids with heart defects a brighter future

Children can acquire heart conditions either at birth (congenital) or later in life. Heart defects that are present since birth are called congenital heart defects (CHDs).

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Today, there are implantable and minimally invasive devices that continue to transform healthcare. (Image Credit: Pixabay)

By Santosh Prabhu

The pandemic has put a lot of things into perspective. We’ve come a long since 2020 when there was considerable disruption in all walks of life. We saw a shift where people with non-COVID-related conditions were skeptical about visiting hospitals. This had a noticeable impact on the management of chronic conditions, including cardiovascular problems.

What’s invariably been affected is the care of children with heart conditions, or paediatric cardiac care. A pan-India study conducted by the Pediatric Cardiac Society of India (PCSI) showed that, in 2020, outpatient visits, hospitalisations, cardiac surgeries and catheterisation procedures decreased by 74.5%, 66.8%, 73.0%, and 74.3%, respectively as compared to 2019. Some factors that influenced this decrease included the imposition of successive lockdowns, the need for travelling long distances to reach these centres, fear and hesitancy amongst parents/caregivers and lack of economic wherewithal to access care.

Problems of the heart are not uncommon in kids. Structural heart conditions, or abnormalities of the heart’s valves and chambers, form a significant part of the problem. Children can acquire heart conditions either at birth (congenital) or later in life. Heart defects that are present since birth are called congenital heart defects (CHDs). CHDs account for more than 30% of all birth defects. In India, it is estimated that 240,000 babies are born with CHDs every year and nearly 20% of these need very early corrective procedures to survive. The most common CHDs seen in India are the ‘hole in the heart’ disorders where the wall dividing the heart’s upper or lower chambers is affected (atrial or ventricular septal defect) and patent ductus arteriosus (PDA) where a persistent opening exists between the two major blood vessels leading from the heart. The opening normally seals on its own, but in some cases, it doesn’t and causes harmful backflow of blood into the lungs. PDA is more common in premature infants. Other more complex CHDs result in so-called ‘blue babies’ and often need immediate intervention.

Survival rates for children with congenital heart defects have improved, and most individuals can now expect a full and healthy life thanks to advances in surgical and medical technologies. In addition, timely diagnosis and swift treatment ensure better prognosis. We have seen teleconsultations even for children go up in the past two years. That’s also another example of using technology, where physicans across the treatment paradigm come together to ensure accurate diagnosis.

Today, there are implantable and minimally invasive devices that continue to transform healthcare. For instance, babies with PDA find it difficult to breathe normally due to an increased flow of blood to the lungs. We’ve seen cases where really tiny babies with a birth weight less than a kilogram have had to be intubated to help them breathe. There is an umbrella-shaped, pea-sized device, known as an occluder, which is inserted in a minimally invasive way, that helps these tiny babies heal and breathe better. They are able to be taken off the ventilator, and get a fighting chance to live a healthier life. One has to truly appreciate what technology such as this means to parents of these newborns.

At Abbott, we’re focused on breaking the boundaries of what’s possible with such life-changing tech. We want to find new and improved solutions. We want to able to give doctors the options they need to address various structural heart issues. Importantly, we want to help people and especially children live better and healthier lives. We are working to create a world where children with heart conditions can be treated and can dream about a future, play with their friends, and achieve their fullest potential.

(The author is the Divisional Vice President, Product Development, Structural Heart, Abbott. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of FinancialExpress.com.)

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