AHA News: Study Highlights Heart-Health Issues for Adults Who Were Preemies | Health News

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American Heart Association News

MONDAY, Oct. 26, 2020 (American Heart Association News) — Erin Wegener was a tiny baby facing enormous challenges.

Born at 29 weeks’ gestation, she weighed only 1 pound, 14 ounces. Her first three months were lived in the neonatal intensive care unit. Family photos show her covered in gauze, sustained by too many tubes to count. Her entire hand just about fit inside her father’s wedding ring.

Her parents were warned she could face a lifetime of mental and physical challenges. But today, she’s working as a music therapist in the same hospital system in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where she was born.

The doctors’ most dire warnings didn’t come true, and her premature birth has never been much of a factor in her adult life. “I feel very thankful that I have not had a lot of health issues growing up,” she said.

Wegener was born in 1985, just a few years before breakthroughs in treatment allowed many more extremely low birth weight babies to survive. As that wave of children enters adulthood, a new study is revealing details about possible risks to their heart health.

Research published Monday in the American Heart Association journal Hypertension compared cardiovascular health among two groups of Australians born in 1991 and 1992, as they turned 25 years old. The 165 participants in the first group were born extremely preterm (earlier than 28 weeks’ gestation) or with an extremely low birth weight (below 2.2 pounds). The 127 participants in the second group were born at term and at normal weights.

Researchers looked at several factors related to heart health and calculated a cardiovascular health score for each person. Overall, the extremely premature/low birth weight group had a less favorable rating than the term-born group, specifically for blood pressure, exercise capacity, fasting blood glucose (a marker of diabetes) and visceral abdominal fat (“belly fat,” which has been linked to heart disease, cancer and more).

It was known that people born early are prone to such problems, said the study’s lead author Dr. Jeanie Cheong, a professor at the Royal Women’s Hospital in Melbourne, Australia. But the new research sought to tie the risks together for an overall view, she said. “We looked at all these factors cumulatively, rather than individually, thus providing a holistic view to health.”

Her work is part of the ongoing Victorian Infant Collaborative Study, which has been monitoring a group of Australians since their birth in 1991 or 1992. That’s the era when some treatments became widespread – such as corticosteroids for at-risk pregnant women to accelerate lung growth of babies in utero or using wetting-like agents called surfactants to treat immature lungs in premature babies.

Those treatments led to what Cheong called an exponential rise in survival over a short period for preemies. Before the 1970s, the survival rate of extremely preterm babies was below 10%, she said. By the early 1990s, that rate had soared to nearly 70%. It’s now at 87%, according to

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AHA News: Boy With ‘Half a Heart’ Gets Lifesaving Transplant | Health News

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American Heart Association News

THURSDAY, Oct. 22, 2020 (American Heart Association News) — Wendy Wees suffered a miscarriage during her first pregnancy with husband, Jason Protiva, so they were overjoyed when they passed the nine-week mark of her second pregnancy.

At her 20-week appointment, the couple found out they were having a boy. The doctor noticed something else on the sonogram. Their unborn son had a serious heart defect.

Further tests determined he would be born with essentially half a heart. He had hypoplastic left heart syndrome (HLHS), a condition where the heart’s left side is underdeveloped. Doctors said he would need three surgeries before age 5, the first performed days after birth.

The couple decided to name their boy “something really strong and meaningful” and chose Abel Falcon. They also chose to focus on the positive, happy they had insurance and there was something they could do for Abel.

“We were trying to think the best and started looking at all the survivors and how this one woman is 30 years old with HLHS,” Wendy said. “We knew that transplant was the end game, but those three surgeries are supposed to allow that to not be necessary until later on in life.”

Abel arrived with normal color, not the blue or grey skin tone they were told he might appear. Before his first surgery at 6 days old, each of his parents were able to hold him skin-to-skin.

“That’s when it all really hit us,” Wendy said. “This is serious. If he survives, it’s going to be a miracle.”

The couple took Abel home after 29 days. They spent a month monitoring his oxygen saturation levels, taking his temperature, recording his feedings, weighing his diapers and administering several oral medications.

“He didn’t sleep well, but he was a baby. And he fussed, but he was a baby. We didn’t think there was anything wrong with him,” Wendy said. “But when we went back for his one-month checkup, they told us he was in heart failure.”

Doctors readmitted Abel to the hospital, but he was too small and weak to endure the next surgery. All the family could do was wait. They camped out on an upper floor and took shifts staying with Abel.

One night, Jason had 3-month-old Abel dancing in his bed. Jason dozed off thinking all was well.

“I woke up to him really laboring to breathe and called the nurse in, and within minutes he coded,” Jason said. “The doctor came in and started doing chest compressions, and it was just chaos.”

They continued CPR for 15 minutes before Abel’s heart surgeon, who had just finished an operation, came in. With no operating rooms available, he placed Abel on maximum life support right there in his hospital room.

The family was told Abel would have to come off the heart-lung machine before he could be listed for a transplant. It took eight days, but Abel was finally weaned off. Almost a month later, he received

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