Fears and tears spoil success story for children with heart defects

    QUEBEC CITY, Oct. 23 /CNW Telbec/ - Play time can be a nightmare for
parents whose children have been successfully operated on to correct serious
heart defects.
    A new study funded by the Heart and Stroke Foundation sheds light on
widespread parental fears that a play time bump in the chest could cause
damage to the area operated on, possibly even resulting in a heart attack or
sudden death.
    As a result, participation in sports and team games by children with
corrected heart defects is very low, Foundation researcher Ms. Pat Longmuir
told the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress 2007, co-hosted by the Heart and
Stroke Foundation of Canada and the Canadian Cardiovascular Society.
    "We need changes at a clinical level to get the message out to parents
and children that fragility is simply not an issue," says Longmuir.
    "The reality is that these kids need vigorous physical activity for their
healthy development," she says. "Physical activity is very good for their
hearts and, with a very few exceptions, they can exercise as much as they
    Physical activity is important too for the social development of
children. "For children aged six to 11 most of their social interaction is
based on some form of physical activity - play at recess, bike riding with
friends, going to a skating party, little league baseball, soccer or some
other sport. So it's not just a matter of the health of their hearts. It is
also a huge component in their self esteem - and how they interact with their
peers," says Longmuir, a graduate student in cardiovascular research at
Toronto's Sick Kids Hospital.
    In the Heart and Stroke Foundation study, Longmuir's team used
qualitative research methods with parents and kids to identify themes such as
anxiety, fear and frustration.
    The study used focus groups of five families and interviews with 20
families (all of whom had children who had surgery). The family dynamics were
examined using tape recorded interviews. Wherever possible, kids were
interviewed without parents being present.
    The study revealed that a majority (55 per cent) of parents experienced
anxiety from mixed messages. On the one hand they said they believed physical
activity was important for their child, on the other they were fearful of the
consequences of vigorous play with other kids. In turn, the children of these
families were less inclined to be physically active.
    Given the amount of surgery their kids have gone through it is natural
for parents to err on the side of caution, says Longmuir. Many of these
children are born with only half a heart. A series of surgeries are required
to correct this, the final one called a Fontan.
    The only exception to the "put your heart into it" philosophy of play are
children who are on blood thinning drugs. But they can still play,
concentrating on non-contact sports such as swimming, biking, running or
jumping rope.

    Statements and conclusions of study authors are solely those of the study
authors and do not necessarily reflect Foundation policy or position. The
Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada makes no representation or warranty as
to their accuracy or reliability.

    The Heart and Stroke Foundation (www.heartandstroke.ca), a
volunteer-based health charity, leads in eliminating heart disease and stroke
and reducing their impact through the advancement of research and its
application, the promotion of healthy living, and advocacy.

For further information:

For further information: or interviews: CCC 2007 MEDIA OFFICE, (418)
649-5215 (Oct 21-24); Marie-Christine Garon, Massy-Forget Public Relations,
(514) 842-2455 ext. 23, mcgaron@mfrp.com; After October 24, 2007: Jane-Diane
Fraser, Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, (613) 569-4361 ext 273,
jfraser@hsf.ca; Congress information and media registration at

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