Our brains need blood and oxygen from the heart in order to develop and function properly. Neurodevelopment refers to how our brains grow and form the connections that direct all of our behavior and experiences. This is a lengthy process that starts before birth and continues into early adulthood. Heart defects in children, whether congenital or acquired, may significantly disrupt the neurodevelopment process.
While some children don't experience any neurodevelopmental problems related to their heart conditions, some show clear problems early on such as difficulty learning to walk or talk. Because the brain develops over such a long period of time, some problems, like learning to read or write, only emerge much later when the brain is required to work quickly and efficiently to process more complex information. In recognition of these needs, the Cardio Neurodevelopmental Program was created. It is the only program of its kind in the region to provide comprehensive neurodevelopmental care to children with heart defects and their families.
The Cardiac Neurodevelopmental Program team
Our primary goal is to reduce the impact of cardiac disease on child development. Through partnerships with families and community providers, we aim to optimize neurodevelopmental outcomes for infants, children and youth with congenital or acquired pediatric heart disease through clinical, quality and research initiatives. The goal is to maximize quality of life across the lifespan. Our team is made up of cardiologists, cardiac nurses, neurologists, occupational and physical therapists, speech and language pathologists and social workers.
Services for patients
We offer evaluation of infants, toddlers and school age children at key developmental stages to ensure that any significant problems are identified early. We provide recommendations, resources and referrals for the best evidence-based treatments and interventions when needed. While not all children will need to be seen repeatedly for evaluation, we do recommend more frequent assessment during the early years to ensure that core milestones are being met at the expected rate and that appropriate interventions are available. As children age, we may evaluate for learning problems as these may not become readily apparent until the child is in school.
Services for families
For all families, having a child with a serious heart condition and going through hospitalizations, surgeries and other invasive medical procedures may leave you with a jumble of thoughts and feelings, including anger and grief about the situation. It is important to know that any and all thoughts or feelings you experience during this time are normal.
Our job is not only to help your child receive the best possible evidence-based care and interventions going forward, but also to make sure that you feel supported and have the tools you will need to effectively advocate for your child as he or she ages.