Treatments

Tiny Hearts Need Big Help

It's startling fact that about 1 in 100 babies is born with a heart defect. Perhaps even more startling is the lack of appropriate tools at doctors' disposal to fix the problems.

children heart disease broken heart
CarbonNYC/Flickr

The Wall Street Journal's Ron Winslow reports on these "neglected patients," thousands of whom need surgery or other interventions each year.

The challenge for doctors is to adapt medical devices and drugs designed for adults to treat youngsters.

Sometimes tiny metal scaffolds usually inserted in grownups' livers are put to use in a children's coronary arteries. Or balloon-tipped catheters designed to clear adults' kidney arteries are snaked through infants' stuck heart valves.

The head of cardiology at Children's Hospital Boston tells the WSJ that the shortage of tools results from a "profitability gap" between the small market for kids and the mainstream business of taking care of adults.

For now, improvisation remains the rule. "We adopt things known to work in adult patients in pediatrics because we're sort of desperate," says Gail Pearson, a pediatric cardiologist and medical officer for NIH's Pediatric Heart Network.

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