I wrote about one such patient recently, a 61-year-old San Jose grandfather who received a new heart valve at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford in May. Sang Hee Yoon was born in South Korea at a time when many babies with heart defects died in infancy. He was one of the first people there to receive a surgical repair for his heart condition, called tetraology of Fallot. The repair worked well for many years, but eventually he needed a replacement for a malfunctioning heart valve.
When the time came, the doctors on our adult congenital heart disease team were here to help. My story explains the unusual challenges of their field, which is growing rapidly as 20,000 teenagers with congenital heart defects “graduate” to adult medical care each year:
“Patients come back at 40 or 50 years old, telling us, ‘My doctor said I was cured,’” said George Lui, MD, medical director of the Adult Congenital Heart Program at Stanford, a collaboration between the Heart Center at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital and Stanford Health Care. Some patients’ childhood surgical repairs were initially judged so successful that they never expected to return to a cardiologist, said Lui… In other cases, the first surgery was so unusual and risky that the surgeon discouraged the patient from undergoing further operations.
But most adults with repaired congenital heart defects are not cured, doctors have learned. As the discipline has matured, cardiologists have honed their understanding of how to help patients like Yoon navigate the risks of living with lingering heart problems, as well as learning how congenital defects interact with cardiovascular problems people acquire with age.
Mr. Yoon’s new heart valve has made a big difference – he and his wife told me that his health is better than ever before. Prior to his surgery at Stanford, his malfunctioning heart valve meant that his body never quite got enough oxygen. He often felt achy or had tightness in his chest, especially at high altitudes. All that is resolved now. The couple’s four children and 10 grandchildren are thrilled:
“They are so happy about my condition,” [Yoon] said. “Not only family members but everybody I know is saying, ‘You look so healthy!’” The Yoons have already visited Kings Canyon National Park, a destination they chose for its mountainous scenery. “I feel such gratitude that now I can enjoy my new life,” Yoon said.
Previously: Patient is “living to live instead of living to survive” thanks to heart repair surgery, Little hearts, big tools and Surgeon building a heart valve that can grow and repair itself
Photo – of Mr. and Mrs. Yoon with his doctors (from left to right) George Lui, MD, Daniel Murphy, MD, and Katsuhide Maeda, MD – courtesy of Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford