LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (Feb. 5, 2010) -- Congenital heart defects are the leading birth defect in the United States, affecting approximately one in every 100 infants born. There are approximately 35 different heart defects; some can be corrected with minimally invasive surgical procedures, while others may be more complicated and require multiple surgeries or a heart transplant.
"Tens of thousands of babies are born with a heart defect every year, but the majority of those children lead normal, healthy lives," said Jake Jaquiss, MD, chief of Pediatric Cardiothoracic Surgery at Arkansas Children's Hospital and professor of Pediatrics at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences College of Medicine. "Technology and treatment for these conditions has dramatically improved. Our patients include star athletes who set high school track records, to medical students who actually come back to help us take care of our patients. In many cases, there are few limitations to what these children can physically do."
Though a family history of congenital heart defects increases the chance of a baby having a heart defect, congenital heart disease occurs also in families with no risk factors. While there have been some genetic causes identified for cardiac defects, researchers believe environmental factors during the mother's pregnancy could increase the risk for a congenital heart defect. Those factors may include certain maternal health conditions such as diabetes or auto-immune disorders. Maternal exposure to certain medications, drugs or alcohol can also affect cardiac development.
The heart begins to form in the first two weeks of pregnancy and begins to beat around three weeks. By six-to-seven weeks of pregnancy, the heart is fully formed. Families with a history of congenital heart defects may choose to have a prenatal test known as a fetal echocardiogram performed on their unborn baby. This test is a highly-detailed ultrasound performed by a pediatric cardiologist who specializes in heart conditions in infants and children. The test examines an unborn baby's heart rate, rhythm, chamber sizes and cardiac valves to assess cardiac structure from multiple planes and perspectives.
"If a fetal echocardiogram detects a congenital heart defect in a baby, our care for that unborn patient and family begins immediately," says Renee Bornemeier, MD, director of the Fetal Cardiology program at Arkansas Children's Hospital and professor of Pediatrics at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences College of Medicine. "We closely monitor the mother's pregnancy and make preparations for the baby's delivery. Our approach is to function as a unified team for the baby and family, including maternal-fetal medicine physicians, neonatologists, cardiologists and cardiovascular surgeons." Early detection, advancement in cardiac support devices and better treatment all are helping children with congenital heart defects live longer, healthier lives.
In 2009, the heart team at Arkansas Children's Hospital performed 23 heart transplants, four fewer than 2008 when the team tied St. Louis Children's Hospital for a national record of 27 heart transplants in one year. A total of 720 pediatric cardiovascular surgical procedures were performed at Arkansas Children's Hospital in 2009. The Heart Center is among the leading programs in the United States, with state-of-the-art ventricular assist devices that support patients from across the country and internationally.
In recognition of Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Week, the heart team will hold special events for patients currently being cared for in the Heart Center, as well as their families. For more information on the Heart Center at Arkansas Children's Hospital, go to www.archildrens.org, or join Jake Jaquiss, MD, pediatric cardiovascular surgeon and Paul Seib, MD, pediatric cardiologist, Tuesday, Feb. 9 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. for a live Facebook chat on congenital heart defects, early detection, children's heart health and pediatric heart risks at
Arkansas Children's Hospital is the only pediatric medical center in Arkansas and one of the largest in the United States serving children. The campus spans 29 city blocks and houses 316 beds, a staff of approximately 500 physicians, 80 residents in pediatrics and pediatric specialties and more than 4,200 employees. The private, nonprofit healthcare facility boasts an internationally renowned reputation for medical breakthroughs and intensive treatments, unique surgical procedures and forward-thinking medical research - all dedicated to fulfilling our mission of enhancing, sustaining and restoring children's health and development.ACH is ranked 85th on the 2010 FORTUNE 100 Best Companies to Work For®. For more information, visit
UAMS is the state's only comprehensive academic health center, with Colleges of Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy, Health Related Professions and Public Health; a graduate school; a 540,000-square-foot hospital; six centers of excellence and a statewide network of regional centers. UAMS has 2,775 students and 748 medical residents. Its centers of excellence include the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute, the Jackson T. Stephens Spine & Neurosciences Institute, the Myeloma Institute for Research and Therapy, the Harvey & Bernice Jones Eye Institute, the Psychiatric Research Institute and the Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging. It is the state's largest public employer with more than 10,000 employees, including nearly 1,150 physicians who provide medical care to patients at UAMS, Arkansas Children's Hospital, the VA Medical Center and UAMS' Area Health Education Centers throughout the state. Visit www.uams.edu or