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Telemedicine saves newborn

By Catherine Seigerman

Time was running out for a newborn in Winchester when his doctors contacted U.Va. on New Year's Day. But through the new Virginia Children's Heart Center, which connects pediatric cardiologists and U.Va. specialists in communities throughout the state, heart defects in 2-day-old Dhevi Mutharamalingam were accurately diagnosed and treated.

"It was a very rare cardiac defect in newborns, one that an adult cardiologist likely would have never seen or recognized," said U.Va. pediatric cardiologist Dr. Karen Rheuban, director of the University's telemedicine program.

Logistics hampered quick access to a medical evacuation helicopter, and U.Va. Health System technicians who began the two-hour road trip had a vehicle breakdown on the way. A Winchester technician activated the teleconferencing equipment there to transmit the echocardiogram to Rheuban at U.Va. She deciphered several problems -- an interrupted aortic arch and hole between the ventricles.

"When we viewed the transmitted echocardiogram via the telemedicine link, we realized we needed to begin this infant on a medication called prostaglandin E1 immediately, and also that he would require open heart surgery fairly urgently," she said.

The medication saved the baby's life, said Dr. Edward Lee, the baby's neonatologist in Winchester. The baby was then transported to U.Va. and his heart was repaired the next day by Dr. Irving Kron, chief of thoracic surgery and co-director of the Virginia Children's Heart Center, along with Dr. Paul Matherne. Dhevi was in fair condition, as of Jan. 11.

The U.Va. pediatric cardiac surgery program treats 150 to 200 cases each year.


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