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Amazing Kids, Amazing Stories: Anna's Story

Pediatric Heart Care

Amazing Kids, Amazing Stories: Anna's Story

Anna MonsonDan Monson remembers the words from his eight-year-old daughter all too well.

"Dad, I went blind tonight," Anna said following a piano lesson.

Although she did not literally lose her sight, Dan knew that something was wrong with Anna. Unfortunately, neither Dan nor his wife, Mary, could pinpoint the problem back in late 2002.

Soon, Anna's teachers began noticing that Anna was not paying attention in school. A couple of months later, Anna noticed the first of what would be several episodes of a rapidly racing heartbeat.

"How come I feel my heart in my toes and legs?" Anna asked her mom.

"You could feel her whole body shaking," said Mary. "As parents, we felt very helpless because we really had no idea what to do. There were months of restless nights."

Ultimately, Dan and Mary - who run a 1,800-cow dairy farm near Brodhead, Wis. - finally learned about the new Pediatric Electrophysiology (EP) and Pacing program at University of Wisconsin Children's Hospital (now the American Family Children's Hospital). Directed by Kathleen Maginot, MD, one of only about 100 pediatric EP specialists in the nation, the program offers a convenient, curative treatment option for children with abnormally fast heart rhythms.

Typical symptoms of heart arrhythmias include palpitations, lightheadedness, shortness of breath, and fainting, says Dr. Maginot, who came to Madison after serving as director of the Pediatric Pacemaker Clinic at UCLA. "Children who experience these symptoms could be suffering from a heart rhythm abnormality and should be seen by a pediatric cardiologist," she added.

Once Dr. Maginot saw Anna, the proverbial light appeared at the end of the tunnel.

Anna's rapid heartbeat was caused by an arrhythmia known as SVT, or supraventricular tachycardia. In a case such as Anna's, treatment calls for eliminating the abnormal pathway through a procedure known as radiofrequency ablation, which was first performed on children about 15 years ago.

Using advanced mapping technology, Dr. Maginot then pinpointed the area causing the abnormal electrical circuit in Anna's heart and applied radiofrequency energy, which heats the troublesome cells and eliminates the abnormal pathway.

Most of the work is in the set-up, Dr. Maginot says. The actual ablation itself usually takes only minutes and often the pathway goes out in five- to 10 seconds.

"The child is discharged the same day," Dr. Maginot says. "Within a week, the child is usually running around as if nothing happened."

Thanks to this technique, most children who are treated by pediatric cardiologists such as Dr. Maginot are effectively cured of their arrhythmia. Prior treatment alternatives - which included high-risk ablation surgery or indefinite courses of medication resulting in unpleasant side effects - are no longer needed.

"Dr. Maginot was so confident that this was the right course of action for Anna," says Dan. "The entire staff that works with her made us feel so at ease."

"It was so nice to have our little girl back," adds Dan.
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Now 10, Anna is enjoying an active childhood and can focus on more age-appropriate concerns.

"Now I can do all the fun stuff I like to do," Anna says. "I like to swim and race on bikes with my brother. Usually, he steals my bike."

For her part, Dr. Maginot is thrilled to see children like Anna healthy and able to participate fully in life.

"The real satisfaction for me is seeing these kids grow up living normal, healthy lives," she says. "These children have their whole lives ahead of them, so it is enormously rewarding to play a role in enhancing their quality of life for 60 or 70 years to come.