January 21, 2005 Features & Images » Feature Story

Work of B.C. Children’s Hospital felt across province 

Last year the cardiac services program at B.C. Children’s Hospital performed life-saving operations on 250 kids.

Of those, 150 had open-heart surgery. Almost all survived, giving the unit the lowest mortality rate in the country (1.4 per cent, averaged over a number of years) for this type of work.

Still, said Dr. Derek Human, head of the cardiac program at Children’s, "as good as our results are this is truly one of the procedures where you may not survive."

Children’s is the only place in B.C. where kids under the age of 18 can receive heart surgery and the special follow-up care they need. And while all the kids must come to Vancouver for their operations up to 600 receive the long-term care they need from the travelling clinics held all over the province.

Up to 7,000 children are seen each year as outpatients through the department, which is responsible for all kids’ heart problems from in-utero to age 18, when the youths are transferred to the adult cardiac department at St. Paul’s.

Congenital heart problems are the most common complication faced by newborns. One baby in a hundred will be born with a heart problem and three in 1,000 tots will need the kind of care baby Grace Henderson received.

When she was just two days old her heart began to fail because of a narrowing of her aorta and a hole between the two ventricles in her heart. In a life and death struggle she has undergone five surgeries on her heart since her August birth.

This week she finally got to go home for good.

"I think what (her) story says is that when you need the service and when your life is on the line I think pretty much then you are going to get good care nearly all of the time," said Dr. Derek Human, medical director of the Cardiac Sciences Program at Children’s.

"Sure there are backlogs and sure people may wait for things that are not immediately life threatening… however I think the way it is managed from the point of view of our service means that we can do things quickly when they need to be done."

Several other families in the Sea to Sky corridor have had to rely on Children’s cardiac program.

Last October Pemberton’s Mike and Tanya Richman almost lost baby Oliver after the newborn’s heart began to fail.

"At first I thought this is nothing," said Mike Richman. "This doesn’t happen to us.

"But in just a couple of hours we were losing (Oliver)."

The baby, who had the same condition as Grace, couldn’t be airlifted to Vancouver due to bad weather so Children’s sent a doctor, an ambulance and its team to Pemberton.

But Oliver was so dangerously ill they feared for his life if they transported him in the ambulance. Finally in the wee hours of the morning they decided to start to drive to the city because they knew if they did nothing Oliver would die.

Today Oliver and his family are recovering from surgeries and their roller coaster ride between life and death.

"I have nothing but positive things to say about Children’s," said Richman.

"And I have a lot of positive things to say about modern medicine."

But he added this warning. "There are a lot of side effects; you have to do your own research too."

Parents are guided through the process by cardiac experts, doctors and nurses from just about every other medical discipline as the team strives to give the kids and their families a chance at a normal life. Highly trained cardiac nurses monitor the children one on one before, during and after operations and follow-up is done on a life-long timeline.

And it’s not just the patients who are cared for. The family is supported by the team and ICU social workers as well.

Kathy and Stephen Henderson have set up a trust in Grace’s name within the B.C. Children’s Hospital Foundation to help raise money for the ICU. Each open-heart surgery costs about $25,000 to $30,000.

To give to the ICU in Grace’s name go to www.bcchf.ca and follow the links, or call 1-888-663-3033.

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