Families who have a child with congenital heart defects--approximately one in 100 children born every year, according to The Children's Heart Foundation--have reason to hope these days.
"It's an incredible world for these young patients," says Salim F. Idriss, MD, PhD, executive co-director of the Duke Children's Pediatric and Congenital Heart Center at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.
Just 20 years ago, the mortality rate for babies born with the most severe heart disease was more than 50 percent. Today, that mortality rate is well under 50 percent.
"Our expectations that these children will survive are much greater," Idriss says. In fact, he is now caring for adults with congenital heart disease who wouldn't have survived infancy or childhood in past eras.
What's changed? For starters, almost all severe congenital heart disease is being discovered when the baby is just a fetus thanks to increased use of ultrasounds. If a congenital heart disease is spotted, a team of providers can then develop a comprehensive plan before the baby is even born.
More hospitals also are starting to do hybrid procedures when appropriate. At Duke, that means combining procedures by cardiac surgeons and interventional cardiologists in one intervention, which allows for better outcomes.
Research, technology and newly identified risk factors are making it easier to spot, prevent and treat heart disease even earlier.
Another technology that's revolutionized the pediatric cardiac field is 3-D printing technology. For babies with complex heart disease, physicians can order an imaging study, which gives them a 3-D look at the baby's heart.
"You can almost literally hold the baby's heart in your hand and determine how to treat it," Idriss says.