Caring for our tiniest hearts

Nabiha Ahmad with uncle Tanveer

Michael Garron Hospital paediatric cardiology patient Nabiha, age 18 months, and her uncle, Tanveer

At just 18 months, Nabiha is too young to understand what the machines are for, and why the nurse wants to put cool gel on her chest. Tears threaten, but senior echocardiographer Jackie McIlvride starts singing “The Wheels on the Bus” and the little girl smiles.

Nabiha’s heart complications were detected while still in utero. Born prematurely, she weighed just 3lb 7 oz and spent more than a month in neonatal intensive care at a downtown hospital. When she was 6 months old, she had heart surgery. A week later, when tests showed low heart function, a tiny pacemaker was implanted in her chest.

It’s now a year since the surgery and Nabiha, her mother, Zakia Ahmad, and uncle, Tanveer Ahmad, have come to Michael Garron Hospital’s Paediatric Cardiology Clinic regularly to check on her progress.

Nabiha is one of nearly 20 young patients that will be seen that morning by paediatric cardiologist Dr. Lynne Nield. Dr. Nield started the Michael Garron Hospital clinic in 2000, and also treats children at SickKids and Sunnybrook. “Families with a child needing this clinic are really happy to come here – it’s closer and easier than going downtown,” she says.

“It’s an amazing clinic,” says Nabiha’s uncle, Tanveer. Along with the convenience it offers his sister and niece, who live in Scarborough, he appreciates the support they’ve received from clinic staff. “There was a bit of an issue with Nabiha’s health card and they helped us so we could keep the appointment,” he says. “The communication is great; they always update us.”

It’s the kind of specialized care most families would expect to need to travel for – but thanks to the dedicated space and trained staff, it’s available closer to home in East Toronto for children with a variety of cardiac conditions. And thanks in part to the generosity of our donors, it runs every Wednesday.

“I see kids from 0 to 18,” Dr. Nield says. “The most common issues are heart murmurs, chest pain, fainting, palpitations, and familial history of heart condition.”

The clinic has a 3- to 4-month wait list, but, Dr. Nield says, “We never say no to a baby. If we get a call about a baby with a suspected murmur, we see them within a week. Our staff is incredible that way.”

With Nabiha’s echo complete, Dr. Nield tells her mother and uncle that she is doing well and doesn’t need to come back for one year. The good news brings smiles all around – no singing necessary.