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Fetal Heart Program


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When your baby needs the most advanced cardiac care, Children’s National Heart Institute is the preeminent provider of fetal cardiac services in the Washington, DC area. The Fetal Heart Program, part of the Heart Institute’s continuum of care, is dedicated to our patients who haven’t been born yet.

Early Intervention for Improved Outcomes
Care begins in utero, which maximizes planning time and allows for early treatment of heart abnormalities — often within moments of delivery. Fetal echocardiography enables us to detect heart defects at 18 weeks gestation; however, major structures of the heart can be scanned as early as 12 weeks.

Children's Heart Institute
As part of the Division of Fetal and Transitional Medicine, prenatal care is coordinated so that your baby has all of the necessary specialists involved in care. We treat the fetus as an individual patient to understand how heart defects affect well-being in utero, as well as it effect on other areas of the body, and to determine when and if an intervention is possible. Once a diagnosis is made, we explain what to expect for the duration of the pregnancy and after delivery — we make certain that all of your questions are answered and families have the support they need.

Program Director Mary T. Donofrio, MD, expanded the fetal heart program to include the region’s only First Trimester Fetal Cardiac Imaging Program. She works closely with a team that includes world renowned cardiac surgeons, physicians, and specially trained cardiac nurses.

Postnatally, care is coordinated with subspecialists in: The Heart Institute’s team provides a variety of cardiac services including electrophysiology, interventional catheterization, congenital heart surgery, and ongoing care for fetuses with congenital heart diseases.

Our Relationship with Community Providers
Team members have strong ties in the community with local obstetricians, neonatologists, and pediatricians, and coordinate consultations with Children’s cardiac surgeons and other subspecialists.

When we know that cardiac surgery will be necessary, arrangements can be made for the delivery to occur in a facility where the infant can be stabilized with the help of Children’s cardiologists prior to transport to Children’s National. In rare cases for which severe compromise is anticipated at the time of birth, the Fetal Delivery Team can plan for a delivery at Children’s National with the support of a collaborative obstetrical team.

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We can plan the details of the baby’s delivery and care after delivery so a heart abnormality does not lead to significant illness or compromise at the time of birth. Once transported to Children’s National, your baby is cared for in a dedicated Cardiac Intensive Care Unit (CICU) and receives individualized care from our multidisciplinary team.

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