Ryan and Ellen Reedy had some challenges getting pregnant with their first child, so when they discovered in February 2013 that they were expecting, they were over the moon with joy. The two originally met in college. After getting married, they moved outside of Rome, Italy, where Ryan serves as the Vice Director of their alma mater’s Rome Program. They planned to have their baby in Italy, a place they love.
Their plans took a dramatic turn in late June when a routine ultrasound found a spot on their baby’s heart. The doctor told them not to worry, it was probably just a calcification that would go away. Shortly after that, they had further ultrasounds and a fetal echocardiogram. This time the news was not good.
Pacemakers have made a huge difference for children with congenital heart defects. Here at the Congenital Heart Center we generally implant pacemaker devices in children each week, for conditions ranging from slow heart rates they were born with to abnormal rhythms arising after complicated heart operations.
Pacemakers are often needed for children with a type of arrhythmia in which heart rhythms are too slow. The device follows the child’s heart beat and keeps it from falling below a certain rate.
While these life saving devices have made a positive difference for countless children since initially developed in 1958, they are not without disadvantages. One major weakness in our current pacemaker models is the need for battery replacement. Although a pacemaker uses only microwatts of power, the batteries currently have a lifespan of 6-12 years. This means that a person with a pacemaker implanted during childhood could require as many as 10 surgeries in their lifetime just because of depleted batteries.
Sudden cardiac death claims the lives of more than 300 Michigan children and young adults (between the ages of 1 and 39 years) annually.
When you think about where we could have the most potential to intervene in a way that could save lives, the schools where our children spend so many waking hours come to mind as an excellent place to start.
What can we do to make a difference?
You’ve probably already heard about the push to place AEDs (automated external defibrillators) in schools. Defibrillation with a device such as an AED provides an electrical shock to re-establish the heart’s normal rhythm and is the only known treatment for ventricular fibrillation. Early cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and defibrillation with an AED within the first three to five minutes after collapse, followed by advanced care, can result in a greater than 50 percent survival rate in these situations. The survival rate drops 10 percent with each minute of delayed defibrillation.
Like many parents, I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about congenital heart defects. That changed a little over 13 years ago. It was then, at my 20 week ultrasound, that it was discovered my unborn baby would be born with a severe heart defect called Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome, which essentially meant only half of his heart would be the normal size needed to function.
We learned a lot that day. We were told that heart defects were the most common birth defect, that I didn’t do anything to cause it, and it was likely a ”fluke.” We learned that his options were limited, his mortality rate was significantly increased and that we could have a lifetime of unknowns and medical care ahead of us. We were told his best chance at survival would be to have one of three open heart surgeries just days after birth.
Since he joined the University of Michigan Health System in 1980, Mike has been a welcome fixture in the Congenital Heart Center. While he is looking forward to the freedom retirement brings, he looks back on his time caring for hearts at Mott fondly. As part of our Heart Month series of blog posts, we caught up with Mike to talk with him about his 3-decade legacy with the Leaders and Best for kids.
Q. How did you get started in a healthcare career?
A. After three years of military service I worked for a time at a foundry in my hometown of South Haven, Michigan. But I had wanted to move back to Ann Arbor, which I eventually did in early 1974, landing a position in the Drafting Department of Space Physics Research Lab on our North Campus. During my four years there, a developing interest in firefighting led me, ultimately, to entry into an Emergency Medical Technician program. It was there that “the lights went on,” and I was drawn to this field where I thought I could do something that could make a difference.
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