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Children’s Mercy checklist for infants with cardiac concerns becomes a national resource

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- When parents learn their infant has a heart defect, it can be overwhelmingly emotional or just overwhelming, and things can get lost in the shuffle.

Children's Mercy Hospital created a simple checklist to solve that problem -- and it's become a national resource.

Ashlie and Mitchell Mason know they're lucky to have Cohen-- a healthy, smiley 4-month old. Cohen was born with a hypoplastic left heart, meaning the left side of his heart didn't form correctly. But luckily, his condition was caught when Ashlie was only 20 weeks along.

The team at Children's Mercy watched Ashlie's pregnancy carefully after the Mason's older son, Parker, was born with a heart defect as well. So when Cohen was born, he was born in the fetal health center at Children's Mercy, where doctors could instantly start treating him.

“It was definitely reassuring that everyone who was taking care of him also took care of me throughout my pregnancy, so they saw me once a month from 20 weeks on, and so it was a lot of familiar faces and a lot of people we had confidence in, and we weren`t thrown into it like we were with Parker,” Ashlie explained.

They were also prepared because of a simple checklist that covers a very complicated issue: fetal and infant cardiac care. This checklist was created by Dr. Tara Swanson, with the help of other cardiac experts at the hospital. It ensures parents are prepared for all the potential challenges heart issues come with.

“We have parents coming back in different stages of grieving, and different stages of the education and I wanted to make certain that every one of them had a consistent message that we`d had an opportunity to discuss all the complications that could happen,” Dr. Swanson said.

The early detection of a heart complication can be devastating for a family, so the checklist makes sure all the bases are covered- meaning by the time the baby arrives- parents aren't scrambling as much to find answers.

“They already know the medical terminology, they know what to expect, and so they`re already part of the team,” Dr. Swanson said. “Rather than being at the bedside crying that first day.”

The checklist has made such a difference, that Dr. Swanson's been asked to share it with other hospitals.

"We share shamelessly,” she said.

Because if it saves a life- or helps a family- in any hospital- Dr. Swanson knows the list is a success.

Children's Mercy was also recently recognized by Microsoft for its use of technology in the cardiac high acuity monitoring program -- or CHAMP. CHAMP is a team that cares for the most delicate patients -- babies born with severe heart defects.