February is American Heart Month! Along with AHM, it is also Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Week from February 7th to February 14th! Many people don’t know, but children with Congenital Heart Defects (CHDs) often have to have surgery to correct the way their heart is working within their first year of life. Sometimes, depending on the severity, children with CHDs need multiple surgeries spanning from a couple of months after birth to their toddler years. Many of these surgeries cause children to stay immobile as they recover, which is necessary, but often limits their overall motor development. As most surgeries are performed within the child’s first year of life, these children can become delayed in crucial developmental milestones that would be occurring at this time.

This causes these kiddos to have to play a lot of catch up as they grow and develop as older infants, toddlers, in grade school, and beyond. Understandably, if you are a parent of a child with a CHD, you may have felt overwhelmed when your child was going through struggles and surgeries. We have heard from our parents, many are just so relieved when their child begins to recover from surgery, and starts to move around and play again. 

Often, physical therapy for children with CHD’s is crucial to make up for lost time, improve gross motor skills, and catch them up to where they have the potential to be! Sometimes the importance of physical therapy is overlooked as they have other medical based needs to meet, but their success with movement is also very important to their success in life, in play, and in school later on! 

Having children with a history of a CHD screened by a physical therapist, and if appropriate started in physical therapy services is important to do ASAP. If you have a child who recently had surgery and still has mobility restrictions, check with their heart surgeon to see if it is okay to start PT, and they will give you the go ahead when they think your child is ready and cleared to move. 

We understand how scary it can be to encourage your child to move and play after hearing so much “don’t do this” or “no they can’t do that right now” that typically comes right before and after surgery. If you aren’t sure where to start, let us PTs help you! We know how to encourage the development of new motor skills and play while keeping in mind any restrictions that your child still has, to help them be the best that they can be while making sure they stay as safe as they can be. The best part is, we can coach you how to do similar activities at home so that you know how to keep your child safe, but help them grow while they play at home. 

Basically, we are here to be your teammate, parents! We know the road you have traveled with your child has been tough, and you may or may not have some more road left to go. But regardless of the difficulty of the journey, we are here to support you and your child along the way to make life easier for you and to help your child achieve all the motor skills they are capable of (while having fun)!

Reference: 

Sprong, M. C., Broeders, W., van der Net, J., Breur, J. M., de Vries, L. S., Slieker, M. G., & van Brussel, M. (2021). Motor developmental delay after cardiac surgery in children with a critical congenital heart defect: A systematic literature review and meta-analysis.

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