Children's National Experts Discuss Importance of Fetal Cardiology Subspecialty to Fetal Medicine July 30, 2014

Mary T. Donofrio, MD, performs an ultrasound on a patient.
Mary T. Donofrio, MD, performs an ultrasound on a patient.

Washington, DC – Earlier this year, the American Heart Association (AHA) released a scientific statement on the diagnosis and treatment of fetal cardiac disease written by a team of cardiac and obstetrical experts with lead author, Mary T. Donofrio, MD, Director of the Fetal Heart Program and Medical Director of the Critical Care Delivery Program for the Fetal Medicine Institute at Children’s National Health System.

Fetal cardiology is a relatively new subspecialty within pediatric cardiology, and this is the first scientific statement on the topic. It provides physicians with a set of guidelines to diagnose and treat fetal cardiovascular problems and to help babies transition from prenatal to postnatal cardiology care.

“This document is so important because it is a coming together of multiple specialties. As medical professionals, we have to work collectively to best care for these families, both babies and their parents, and recognize the importance of each other’s expertise,” says Dr. Donofrio.

“The Children's National Fetal Medicine Institute is fortunate to have leaders in the field of fetal cardiology such as Dr. Mary Donofrio, who played a leading role in the conception and creation of this important AHA scientific statement. Although fetal cardiology is relatively new to cardiology, it is one of the more established subspecialties within the rapidly growing field of fetal medicine,” says Adré J. du Plessis, MBChB, Director of the Fetal Medicine Institute and Division Chief of Fetal and Transitional Medicine. “Given the systems-wide influence of fetal cardiovascular function on fetal development, this publication is likely to be a major contribution not only to fetal cardiology but to fetal medicine as a whole.”

In the past few decades, fetal medicine has transformed greatly due in part to the understanding that fetal circulation differs from postnatal circulation and that fetal cardiologists and other specialists must consider the fetus as a patient and provide care starting in utero. In the past, obstetricians cared for the fetus, neonatologists cared for the newborn in the delivery room, and pediatric cardiologists or other pediatric subspecialists only became involved after birth when the baby arrived in the nursery or intensive care unit. Now, physicians can diagnose congenital heart disease in utero and provide a continuum of care spanning the prenatal, delivery, and postnatal periods.

Another major area that the AHA statement addressed was providing support for families struggling with the negative emotions that accompany a prenatal congenital heart disease diagnosis. Research suggests pregnant women may be more likely to be depressed, have anxiety, or suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder after a prenatal diagnosis, which can negatively affect both baby and mother. Dr. Donofrio notes fetal medicine is more than just treating the baby’s condition, “It’s important for us to be supportive, see these families through the pregnancy, and always be available to listen, answer questions, and help them through their journey.”

Contact: Emily Hartman or Caitlyn Camacho at 202-476-4500.

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About Children’s National Health System

Children’s National Health System, based in Washington, DC, has been serving the nation’s children since 1870. Children’s National is Magnet® designated, and is consistently ranked among the top pediatric hospitals by U.S.News & World Report. Home to the Children’s Research Institute and the Sheikh Zayed Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation, Children’s National is one of the nation’s top NIH-funded pediatric institutions. With a community-based pediatric network, seven regional outpatient centers, an ambulatory surgery center, two emergency rooms, an acute care hospital, and collaborations throughout the region, Children’s National is recognized for its expertise and innovation in pediatric care and as an advocate for all children. For more information, visit ChildrensNational.org, or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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