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Healthwatch 16: Congenital heart disease in adults

Better health care overall means people are living longer, and that includes those with congenital heart issues. Doctors say it's a good problem to have.

DANVILLE, Pa. — Congenital heart disease is an abnormality of the heart that develops in a baby before the child is even born. Each year, 40,000 babies are born in the U.S. with congenital heart disease. Some, but not all, will require surgery.

Congenital heart disease used to be something that typically only affected kids.

Not so anymore, according to Dr. Gerhard Ziemer. Director of pediatric cardiac surgery and adult congenital heart surgery for Geisinger.

"There are more adults in the U.S. with congenital heart disease than children. this is the result in the advance of medical and surgical treatment," Dr. Ziemer said.

Because people are living longer, Geisinger Health System is building a program that combines care for children with the disease and necessary care for adults with the issue as well.

Dr. Ziemer, a surgeon trained in Germany and in the U.S., will lead the congenital heart surgery program.

"Adults may need additional surgery also, however, the main issue for adults with congenital heart disease is they have been fixed, although their heart is not normal, they can live a healthy, pleasant life, they will still need surveillance."

If you'll be cared for in the clinic, you'll likely also meet Wilkes-Barre native and nurse practitioner Cherish Boehm who will assist in scheduling, appointments, and post-op care.

"My experience as a nurse prior to my nurse practitioner was cardiology, but I worked in adult cardiology, so I knew my passion was the heart. But in my rotation at school, I worked in pediatrics, and it was a no-brainer. I just had a draw to it," Boehm said.

Dr. Ziemer started at Geisinger just days before COVID-19 restrictions were put in place back in March. But he says as of July or so, the program is up and running, and anyone who needs their guidance shouldn't be afraid to contact them.