Miracle Monday: Treating congenital heart disease at all ages

SPOKANE, Wash. - Health advocates are working to make a difference in the community all February by spreading the word about how to prevent heart disease and live heart-healthy lives. Some of the nation's best cardiac resources are located in the Inland Northwest. 

The Providence Center for Congenital Heart Disease is one of 17 programs across the nation certified in part of the first heart programs in the U.S. to receive accreditation from the Adult Congenital Heart Association, according to cardiologist Jeremy Nicolarsen. The center has treated both children and adults with congenital heart disease (CHD) for more than 30 years at their Spokane location and at satellite clinics throughout central and eastern Washington and northern Idaho. 

About 40,000 babies are born each year with an abnormality in their heart that develops before they're born. That makes CHD the most common birth defect in America. 

Dr. Nicolarsen said having CHD isn't such a scary thing, thanks to modern medicine. 

"Previously children born with very complex heart defects would not survive and nowadays most children will survive into adulthood. We know that 90% of patients with congenital heart disease make it to adulthood and of those, even the ones with the most complex disease are still making it," Nicolarsen said. 

There is a troubling trend though, Nicolarsen noted. Many heart patients are not continuing their care as they get older. 

"When children have their heart defects repaired, many times they're never really cured. It's important that they continue to see their pediatric cardiologist regularly and that it's really important that they continue to get care by a cardiologist who is comfortable with management of adults with CHD," Nicolarsen said. 

Getting that care is easier in the Inland Northwest because the Providence Center for Congenital Heart Disease offers treatments for all ages. 

"We are able to provide comprehensive management...and really care for a patient in and out of the hospital in ways that a cardiologist that doesn't have that supportive team can do so," Nicolarsen said.