NEW ORLEANS - When parents get the terrible news that their baby was born with a defective heart, they have someone to lean on who understands what they are going through.
Not only can a special, young nurse show them hope for the future, but he can explain how new technology will make their lives easier than his was.
When you see him interacting in an exam room, it is obvious nurse Shawn Fontenot has a special bond with young heart patients.
"My personal history is what drove me into the medical field and especially into pediatric cardiology," said Shawn Fontenot, an Ochsner Pediatric Cardiology Nurse.
Right after birth 25 years ago, he turned blue. Doctors realized he had some heart defects, a hole in his heart between the two bottom chambers and the pulmonary valve was never formed. It's one of the most common heart defects in U.S. children. From his home in Lafayette, Louisiana, he came to Ochsner Hospital for his first surgery at three days old. He jokes to friends that his scars are from a shark attack, but even enduring 20 surgeries and procedures in his short life, he still calls his childhood "pretty normal."
"I played some sports when I was younger for a few years, you know. I could hang out with friends and do all the normal things that all my friends could do except for contact sports," remembers Fontenot.
Much has changed since then. One advance is Medtronic Melody Transcatheter Pulmonary Valve.
"So what the percutaneous valves allow us to do is to lessen the impact the need for repeated surgeries. It doesn't eliminate the need for surgery in total," explained Dr. Sam Lucas, Head of Ochsner Pediatric Cardiology .
Because there is no valve that will grow with a child or last forever, repeated procedures are necessary. But the Melody Valve makes life much easier. Doctors can implant it in a cath lab, threading it up through a vessel in the groin and moving it to the chest.
"Oh, it's no comparison. The Melody Valve is awesome. It's basically just a heart cath. You leave the next day. You're staying over night. Put a band aid on your groin and that's pretty much it. I mean, I was sitting up and walking the next day, actually that night," said Fontenot. "Open heart surgery, it's not fun, a lot more painful, a lot more recovery time and just a lot more complications from just with being opened up so many times."
"We did it on a Friday and he wanted to come back to work on Monday. I think that's kind of neat and I made him take the week off," Dr. Lucas said about his patient and now coworker.
Now Shawn not only enjoys interacting with young patients, but their concerned families as well.
"It also gives hope to the parents here that have a kid newly diagnosed with heart problems, to know that they can grow up and live a normal life and get a great job and career and do things," Fontenot said.
Doctors think this valve may last a bit longer than the surgical alternatives.
"The good news is we're looking at people who would have died with in days of birth, who now, we expect to be 70 or 80 years old. And we've lessened the number of operations from five or six to one or two," said Dr. Lucas.
Ochsner not only has a team of heart specialists to treat babies and children, but also a team to treat those who were born with heart problems and are now adults.
For more on the device used in this procedure: http://www.medtronic.com/melody/home.html.