Best Doctors 2010: Heart Monitor

Dr. Chandrakant Patel

Lisa McLain was at her 18-week ultrasound when the doctors saw something unusual on the monitor: The blood in her baby’s heart was flowing backward.

They thought it could be double outlet right ventricle — or DORV — defect, in which both the aorta and the pulmonary artery exit from the right ventricle. With the heart’s plumbing out of place (the aorta leaves the left ventrical in a normal heart), it can’t move oxygen-rich blood through the body correctly. It can also indicate other heart problems, but it’s tough to diagnose when babies are in utero.

Even after three more appointments, McLain’s doctors still couldn’t get a clear picture. They told her she might have to wait until the baby was born to find out what was wrong. Lisa and her husband, Pat, weren’t happy with that plan.

“Where do you go for a second opinion when you’ve already been to what you think is the best?” asked Pat.

So they changed doctors after talking to a friend who recommended Dr. Chandrakant Patel.

A pediatric cardiologist at Akron Children’s Hospital, Patel specializes in fetal echocardiography, where he takes a picture of a baby’s heart in utero. At 18 weeks, a baby’s heart is about the size of the nail on your pinkie finger.

“It’s the meticulousness — how carefully you do the ultrasound — [that] makes you much more comfortable to know what’s going to happen,” Patel says of diagnosing a DORV defect and planning the required surgeries to fix it.

And that willingness to determine the exact cause put the McLains at ease.

“I love my husband, but I don’t think that phone call will ever be topped in my lifetime,” says Lisa of her first conversation with Patel, who said they’d do whatever necessary to make a diagnosis. “I felt like I had 80 tons of pressure just taken off my shoulders. I never looked back.”

They spent four hours in Patel’s office until all three were sure it was DORV. He answered their questions and made a plan, explaining what everything meant.

A few months later, Sidney was born at Fairview Hospital, baptized and, four hours later, was at Akron Children’s for her first heart surgery. She’d have two more open-heart surgeries, one when she was 14 months old, and again at 4, plus a half-dozen heart catheterizations.

Sidney turns 8 this month. She sings in a choir, plays softball, takes swimming lessons and goes horseback riding.

“For us, the fact that we walked into Akron Children’s knowing that Sidney is just in the best care is key,” says Lisa. “Dr. Patel has a gift. We’re not heart surgeons, but we became highly educated fast. We will be eternally grateful.”

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