Giving children with heart defects a better future

By Santosh Prabhu

The pandemic has put a lot of things into perspective. We have come a long way since 2020, when there was tremendous disruption in all walks of life. We saw a shift where people with non-COVID conditions were skeptical about visiting hospitals. This has had a noticeable impact on the management of chronic diseases, including cardiovascular issues.

What is invariably affected is the care of children with heart disease or pediatric cardiac care. A pan-Indian study conducted by the Pediatric Cardiac Society of India (PCSI) showed that in 2020, outpatient visits, hospitalizations, heart surgeries and catheterization procedures decreased by 74.5%, 66.8% , 73.0% and 74.3%, respectively compared to 2019. Among the factors that influenced this decrease are the imposition of successive confinements, the need to travel long distances to reach these centers, fear and the hesitation of parents/guardians and the lack of economic means to access care.

Heart problems are not uncommon in children. Structural heart conditions, or abnormalities of the valves and chambers of the heart, are a significant part of the problem. Children can get heart disease at birth (congenital) or later in life. Heart defects present from birth are called congenital heart defects (CHD). Coronary heart disease accounts for more than 30% of all birth defects. In India, an estimated 240,000 babies are born with coronary artery disease every year and almost 20% of them need very early corrective procedures to survive. The most common coronary diseases seen in India are “hole in the heart” disorders where the wall dividing the upper or lower chambers of the heart is affected (atrial or ventricular septal defect) and persistent ductus arteriosus (PDA) where a persistent opening exists between the two major blood vessels branching off from the heart. The opening normally seals on its own, but in some cases it does not and causes harmful backflow of blood into the lungs. PDA is more common in premature infants. Other more complex coronary heart disease results in what are called “blue babies” and often require immediate intervention.

Survival rates for children with congenital heart defects have improved and most people can now expect a full and healthy life thanks to advances in surgical and medical technologies. In addition, prompt diagnosis and prompt treatment guarantee a better prognosis. We have seen teleconsultations even for children increase in the last two years. It is also another example of the use of technology, where physicians across the treatment paradigm come together to ensure an accurate diagnosis.

Today, there are implantable, minimally invasive devices that continue to transform healthcare. For example, babies with PDA find it difficult to breathe normally due to increased blood flow to the lungs. We have seen cases where very small babies with a birth weight of less than one kilogram had to be intubated to help them breathe. There is an umbrella-shaped, pea-sized device known as an occlusion that is inserted in a minimally invasive way that helps these little babies heal and breathe better. They can be taken off the ventilator and given a chance for a healthier life. You really have to understand what such technology means for the parents of these newborns.

At Abbott, we strive to push the boundaries of what is possible with such life-changing technology. We want to find new and improved solutions. We want to be able to give physicians the options they need to treat a variety of structural heart conditions. Above all, we want to help people and especially children to live a better and healthier life. We work to create a world where children with heart disease can be treated and can dream of a future, play with their friends and reach their full potential.

(The author is Divisional Vice President, Product Development, Structural Heart, Abbott. Opinions expressed are personal information and do not reflect the official position or policy of