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Cardiac Care 

About one out of every 100 children is born with a congenital heart defect.

Each child is different, so it is most important that schools, parents and pediatric specialists communicate any limitations or special needs required by each individual child. However, thanks to advances in surgery and medications, most children with heart defects can fully participate in activities.

Danger Signs

If a child with a heart defect exhibits any of the following symptoms, it's important to contact the child's doctor and family immediately.

  • Bluish color to the skin around the mouth, or on the lips and tongue
  • Difficulty breathing or increased rate of breathing
  • Poor appetite and/or sweating during eating
  • Weight loss or failure to gain weight
  • Prolonged or unexplained fever

Cardiac Treatment Plans

If:
A child with a heart defect is having problems carrying books and navigating the stairs from class to class, or the child is obviously exhausted by the time he or she gets home every day...
Then:
Both school and parents should work together to find an arrangement to accommodate the child's special needs. Ideas might include arranging for different students to be "book buddies" and allowing the child to have a set of books in each classroom as well as at home. The child should know that it's okay if he or she needs extra time to get to classes as well as for rest breaks.

If:
A child with a heart defect is having problems fitting in due to time lost during hospitalizations, being behind in schoolwork and the effect of medications...
Then:
It may be important for the school, parents and child to discuss the benefits of educating other students about the child's condition.

If:
A child with a heart defect is able to play sports, run on the playground and enjoy normal school activities without problem...
Then:
This is what you can expect from most children with heart defects thanks to advances in medicine. Be aware of the heart defect, but unless parents and doctors advise it, no limits on activities are necessary.

Questions to Ask Parents and/or Pediatric Specialists

  • Can your child participate in normal activities?
  • Does your child tire easily? Do staff need to be educated to allow your child to stop and rest when he or she needs to?
  • Does your child need help with stairs, opening doors, carrying books, etc.?
  • Has your child received the appropriate immunizations, including influenza shots, recommended for children with heart defects?
  • Is cold or hot weather a special concern for your child?
  • Can your child attend field trips? What are his/her medical/medication needs should it be an extended trip?
  • Does your child's medication cause frequent visits to the restroom?
  • Is your child on a blood thinner, which would limit your child's ability to participate in contact sports?
  • Will your child need to miss days of school due to hospital or clinic visits? How can the school help your child keep up-to-date with schoolwork?
  • Does your child have social difficulties or learning disabilities due to the heart defect or treatment?
  • What are the emergency contact numbers for both parents and pediatric specialists?
  • Are there any other concerns the school should be aware of?

Advice for Parents

  1. Spell it out. With so many complicated heart conditions, each child's needs are individual. It's important for parents to take the lead to ensure that schools, parents and pediatric specialists work together and communicate effectively. Schools should be provided, in writing, with any special requirements necessary for the safety of your child.
  2. Educate. Other family members, teachers, school health professionals and children's peers should be encouraged to learn more about cardiac conditions and warning signs. In most cases, children with heart defects can live normal lives, but awareness can be important should the unthinkable happen.
  3. Make your child's life as normal as possible. While the idea of a heart defect is frightening, it's important for children to feel as normal as possible. Being overprotective and limiting activity when it is not warranted could lead to a child feeling isolated and stigmatized. So stay safe, but allow children to live life to the fullest.

To learn more about our services, go to mcghealth.org/Kids.
To make an appointment with one of our pediatric specialists or subspecialists, simply call 706-721-KIDS (5437) or 1-888-721-KIDS.