Story by: David Steen Martin on September 30, 2022
Southern Indiana are getting the sophisticated pediatric heart care available at Norton Children’s without having to leave their hometown.
Norton Children’s Heart Institute, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine, has an extensive network offering pediatric cardiology testing and follow-up care at 16 cardiology offices, 30 tele-echocardiography locations and six fetal echocardiography locations across Southern Indiana and Kentucky.
“From a patient’s perspective, that’s an enormous benefit,” said Walter L. Sobczyk, M.D., pediatric cardiologist with Norton Children’s Heart Institute. “We can provide our expertise in the pediatrician’s office.”
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To provide this long-distance care, physicians throughout Kentucky and Southern Indiana transmit echocardiograms —heart imaging using ultrasound technology — 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.
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 ultrasound scans before the baby is born.
“We get the entire 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 diagnosis in advance, 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.
Because so many of these babies born with heart issues grow up to lead active lives, Norton Children’s Heart Institute’s adult congenital heart disease program provides specialized care throughout life.
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 see patients at 16 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 Heart Institute is the only heart program in Kentucky or Indiana recognized as a comprehensive care center for adult congenital heart diseaseby the Adult Congenital Heart Association.
“Norton Children’s extensive outreach has been a win for patients and a win for communities across Kentucky and Southern Indiana,” Dr. Sobczyk said.