Rebecca Weissinger – Interview with a CHD researcher
Rebecca and her family live in Moab, Utah. Her youngest son has tetralogy of Fallot with pulmonary atresia. He has had two life flights, two open heart surgeries, and two cath procedures. He is a first grader this year and has a happy heart.
How unique is your child’s heart? Sure, as parents of kids with congenital heart disease (CHD), we (usually) get a diagnosis, but wrapped up in that simple phrase there’s a whole realm of complexity. Maybe an artery is attached slightly off kilter, or there’s one hole (how big? where?) or several holes, or there’s narrowing (how much?) or thickened muscle. These anatomical quirks affect how blood flows through the heart and how each child’s heart needs to be treated. Doctors use imaging to help map out each child’s heart and blood vessels prior to surgery, but the truth is, the dynamic nature of a beating heart has been difficult to capture. Incomplete information leads to uncertainty in how an individual child will respond to a surgical procedure.
Dr. Mehdi Hedjazi Moghari, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, saw this problem first-hand when he started working in the cardiac imaging division at Boston Children’s Hospital, and he wanted to take a crack at solving it. What if he could find a way to use imaging to predict outcomes in advance? That’s what he and his team have set out to do, with support from this year’s CHD Research Awards from the American Heart Association and The Children’s Heart Foundation.
Dr. Hedjazi Moghari and his team are using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to create 3D pictures that move over time and capture blood flow patterns unique to your child. This information is used to develop patient-specific heart models that simulate various surgical treatments to find the best approach for each child before they ever enter the operating room. This would result in an individualized treatment plan as unique as our children’s hearts. I was recently able to chat with Dr. Hedjazi Moghari about his work.
How will this research help children with CHD?
When a child has complex CHD, there may be multiple operations that could be considered to repair it. Which one will better help that individual child? That’s what this work may answer.
How is your MRI approach different from other methods that are already available, like catheterization or echocardiography (ultrasound)?
MRI is safe, non-invasive, and doesn’t involve x-ray radiation exposure that may create an additional risk to the child. Ultrasound techniques like echocardiography cannot give the level of detail needed to create models of the heart for surgical simulations.
How can my child get one?
Cardiac MRIs are available at many major congenital heart disease programs with expertise in imaging. The special type of MRI pictures and analysis that I believe will be helpful is still being developed at my hospital. Much of my work is trying to make the technique easy to perform so that it can be available to everyone. Then, we can use it to customize treatment choices for children with CHD.
Congratulations to Dr. Hedjazi Moghari, and best of luck on this important work!