Sharma, director of pediatric cardiology at Jamaica Hospital Medical Center, brought together some of his patients and their parents to celebrate the heart-happy holiday, meet one another and share their experiences.Ranging in age from a few weeks to 18 years, the patients have become members of Sharma's medical family due to complex structural heart defects he and his team have treated-some since before they were born.He knows them all by name and condition, picking out from the crowd which children were born with only one ventricle (a normal heart has two atria and two ventricles) and describing how they were diagnosed in the womb or after birth and subsequently treated."Lifelong follow-up is vital and extremely important to children with structural heart defects. We monitor them through adulthood and work with their adult cardiologist to anticipate any potential problems," Sharma said. "This event shows them that there are other children going through similar issues where they have to monitor their level of physical activity and watch their eating habits."A loop of patient photos played on a big screen at one end of the room, showing infants, toddlers and kindergarten graduates who have been Sharma's patients through the years.Gina Alvarez, 18, of Manhattan, has been seeing Sharma since she was 10 for a problem with the tricuspid valve in her heart. "I couldn't play. I couldn't walk more than two blocks without turning blue," she said, describing her condition's effect.When a photo of a baby wearing an oxygen tube appeared on the screen, Alvarez's mother told Gina in Spanish, "That's how you were."Gina traveled from her native Ecuador to New York City for treatment and surgery, becoming a member of Sharma's extended patient family."It was really difficult. I couldn't speak English at all," she said of her early days in New York. "With the help of God, I found a lot of people to help me. I found a doctor who's like a father - he cares about my health, he cares about my grades."Now several years after surgery, she plans to attend college in the fall and study economics.Danisha Harris, 6, of Jamaica, was born in the hospital and diagnosed at 3 months old with pulmonary valve stenosis, a condition which restricts the blood flow to the lungs. Sharma's team placed a catheter in Danisha's heart to correct the defect, said her mother, Kathy Anne Harris."She really likes him. She likes holding the stethoscope" during their office visits with Sharma, Harris said.Reach reporter Alex Christodoulides by e-mail at achristodo
©2008 Community News Group
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