Saving kids' lives with an ECG

FRESNO, Calif.

Determining if your child is at risk can be difficult, but now a group of researchers believe a routine test that checks for problems in adult hearts could be used to save kids' lives.

Eleven-year old Lena Felix is in constant motion. It's hard to imagine that for half her life, she lived with a potentially deadly heart defect-called atrial septal defect or ASD.

"(It's) basically a hole in your heart. A large hole," Michelle Borelli, Lena's mother told Action News.

Lena never showed any symptoms of heart trouble. Doctors discovered the defect by chance. Michelle Borelli had heard about a children's heart health study, and enrolled her kids on a whim. Pediatric cardiologist Dr. Victoria Vetter is studying how measuring the electrical activity of the heart with an ECG could save kid's lives.

"These children may have the cardiac arrest as their very first symptom. So by identifying them early and providing treatment and care, we can often prevent the cardiac arrest from occurring," Victoria Vetter, M.D., from The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia told Action News.

In the heart health screening study of 2,500 school-aged students, researchers found undetected abnormalities in 5 percent of kids. Lena was among the one percent who had a life-threatening condition.

But the ECG isn't foolproof. Critics say false positives could lead to more expensive tests-and high anxiety for parents. Still Lena's mother believes it's worth it. Lena had surgery to fix her heart defect-before it became life-threatening.

"My daughter is proof that this is something that should be mandated," Borelli concluded.

Dr. Vetter says research shows the ECG is three times as effective in picking up abnormalities as a personal history and traditional physical exam. She says improvements in ECG standards will lower false positives, reducing the number of tests needed. Vetter says she would eventually like to see ECG widely available at pediatrician's offices.

For more information, contact:

Joey McCool/Media Relations
The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia
(267) 426-6070

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