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Back to School Tips for those with Congenital Heart Defects

Humes, RichardFor many families the end of summer brings end of season vacations followed by preparing for the upcoming school year. But for those with congenital heart defects (CHD), back to school issues can mean much more than where to find the coolest notebooks since their heart condition can have an impact on the student’s performance both in and out of the classroom.

CHD is the leading cause of birth defect-associated infant illness and death. Some of the more common defects include holes in the walls between the heart chambers, abnormal valves and abnormalities in the blood vessels entering or leaving the heart.
Richard Humes, M.D., chief of Cardiology on staff at Children’s Hospital of Michigan at the Detroit Medical Center, says most children with simple heart defects do not require special care when they attend school. In fact the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that more than 80% of individuals with a mild CHD have no developmental disabilities. However, more than half of those with a more critical type of CHD have some form of disability or impairment.

“The population of people with CHDs is growing and it’s important to make students, parents, teachers and the community aware of the prevalence and signs of these defects so we can optimize the student’s experience in school,” says Dr. Humes.

Some of the signs of more complicated heart defects include:
• Increased fatigue: Children with some forms of congenital heart disease may tire more easily or may be short of breath after exercise.
• Students may be more likely to get and share common respiratory infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia. In some types of heart disease, too much blood reaches the lungs, making respiratory infections more severe.
• Students with heart defects may be lighter than their classmates. Many children with congenital heart defects also have difficulty gaining weight.

Tips for Teachers
It is important that teachers and staff be informed of a student’s heart condition and how it can affect school activities. For example, since some kids with CHD can be short of breath after walking, accommodations can be made to allow the child extra time to get to class and not be penalized. Parents, nurses, and physicians can provide staff with information about the student’s health, permitted activity level, medications, and future treatment.
A child with CHD may also be at risk of having some learning or behavioral problems as a result of the heart condition or its treatment. By keeping an eye on potential problems, special testing and tutoring can be arranged early to address the issues.

Tips for Students and Parents
If a child is going to a new school it would be beneficial to find out ahead of time if there are access issues such as stairs, bathrooms and transportation which can hinder getting around school. For example, arranging for a locker to be on the main level can help the student get to classes on a timely manner.
Even if the child is older and away from school it is important to continue contact with the child’s cardiologist and staff so that medications and other potential issues are managed.

“In the event that a child or younger adult requires surgery or other comprehensive treatment that may require the child to be away from school, we can help the parents and child manage issues such as keeping up with schoolwork or changes that may require limitation of returns to school so they can develop their full academic potential,” says Dr. Humes.

The Cardiology and Cardiovascular Surgery programs at Children’s Hospital of Michigan at the Detroit Medical Center are ranked among America’s best in U.S. News & World Report’s 2014-15 Best Children’s Hospitals rankings.

For further information on cardiology services at Children’s Hospital of Michigan which includes convenient access to services in Birmingham, Clinton Township and Detroit visit www.childrensdmc.org/pediatric-heartcenter.