When a pediatrician suspects a child has a serious heart issue, the physician and parents want to understand the situation quickly with a speedy diagnosis. If families in Kentucky or Indiana had to drive to a distant city for the necessary tests, it could mean a long trip, arranging extended time off from work and school, and possibly an overnight stay in a hotel.
All of that takes time, not to mention the expense and delay in getting a precise diagnosis.
Families across Kentucky and Southern Indiana have the option of staying much closer to home while getting a diagnosis from the pediatric cardiologists at Norton Children’s Heart Institute, affiliated with the University of Louisville.
Norton Children’s Heart Institute’s extensive community outreach service makes pediatric cardiology testing and follow-up care available at 29 regional sites from Madison, Indiana, to Jasper, Indiana; and from Ashland, Kentucky, to Paducah, Kentucky.
“From a patient’s perspective, that’s an enormous benefit,” said Walter L. Sobczyk, M.D., pediatric cardiologist with UofL Physicians – Pediatric Cardiology. “We can provide our expertise in the pediatrician’s office.”
Connecting children with quality heart care
To provide this long-distance care, physicians throughout Kentucky and Indiana transmit echocardiograms and other tests to Norton Children’s Heart Institute in Louisville. The pediatric cardiologists in Louisville determine, sometimes within minutes, whether a heart abnormality is harmless or requires immediate attention.
“The babies do better when we can make an early diagnosis,” Dr. Sobczyk said. “This can be lifesaving.”
For example, a baby born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, which affects the flow of blood, needs a medication right away to survive. Without it, the baby will die within hours or days.
Specialists at Norton Children’s Heart Institute can diagnose the condition based on an echocardiogram. The local hospital can administer lifesaving medication that can keep the baby alive until a cardiothoracic surgeon performs a series of operations to correct the heart defect.
The Society of Thoracic Surgeons has rated Norton Children’s Heart Institute as high as any pediatric heart center in Kentucky or Ohio.
Experienced guidance for local physicians
For less serious cases, local physicians often can provide follow-up care with guidance from Norton Children’s Heart Institute’s pediatric cardiologists.
In addition to evaluating echocardiograms, Norton Children’s Heart Institute pediatric cardiologists can evaluate electrocardiograms, rhythm monitoring and other tests. They can also look at ultrasounds before the baby is born.
“We get theentire ultrasound as if we did it ourselves at Norton Children’s Hospital,” Dr. Sobczyk said. “We can read the fetal ultrasound and make the diagnosis while the baby is still safely in the mom’s womb and the mother is still in her hometown.”
Diagnosing heart conditions during pregnancy allows families to consider different delivery options, such as giving birth at Norton Hospital for complicated deliveries because it is connected by pedway to Norton Children’s Hospital. With the advance diagnosis, pediatric cardiologists can be ready to treat the baby, perform complex surgery if necessary and provide care in a Level IV neonatal intensive care unit, which is the highest level of care possible for newborns.
Congenital heart care into adulthood
Because so many of these babies grow up to lead active lives, the Norton Children’s Heart Institute adult congenital heart disease program provides specialized care throughout life.
Norton Children’s Heart Institute, affiliated with the University of Louisville
We have a long legacy of leading pediatric heart care; children and families are at the core of our mission.
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Norton Children’s has worked to bring quality pediatric cardiology to rural and underserved communities since the 1960s, when doctors traveled with teams throughout the state, according to Dr. Sobczyk. Rural providers would send tapes of tests such as echocardiograms via mail or courier, taking hours or days to reach a specialist.
With advances in technology, local hospitals can transmit echocardiograms and other tests to Louisville instantly over a secure network. Specialists with Norton Children’s Heart Institute now interpret more than 3,000 transmitted echocardiograms a year.
Norton Children’s Heart Institute specialists still travel to 16 outreach clinics every month, providing heart care for adults who were born with congenital heart conditions and may have had surgery as babies.
“Norton Children’s extensive outreach has been a win for patients and a win for communities across Kentucky and Southern Indiana,” Dr. Sobczyk said.