Heart restart

Playful fitness is possible for kids with heart conditions

For parents of children who live in the shadow of a congenital heart problem, even simple activities can cause a knot of anxiety. Even years after corrective surgery, it’s easy to worry whether an activity is OK or too much.

Adult cardiac rehabilitation is mandated, but very few programs exist to transition children to normal activity. OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital has recently launched Heart Restart, the first outpatient program on the West Coast for pediatric cardiac rehab.

“For a long time, if patients survived operations, that was success,” says Ali Mumford, a physician assistant in pediatric cardiology at OHSU Doernbecher. “Now we are saying that getting home is not enough. Now the goal is to have as normal a childhood as possible, supporting confidence in children and parents for the activities they want to do.”

Even more so than the average child, young heart patients need to practice healthy habits.

“We want our cardiac patients to know they are safe to run around, sweat and get red in the face,” says Dr. Jennifer Huang, pediatric cardiologist at OHSU Doernbecher. “Our rehab program can be for children immediately after surgery or several years later.”

Participants are carefully evaluated before being cleared to join physical therapist Sarah Staropoli for cardiovascular training (disguised as fun) once or twice a week for three months.

Interested in the Heart Restart program? Talk to your child’s cardiologist or call OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital at 503-346-0640.

“We change the activities so kids don’t get bored, and to stress different parts of the body without getting too tired,” Staropoli says. “For one Star Wars fan, we had a balance activity where we stood on one leg and hit our partner with swim noodles. We want it to be fun so they fall in love with exercise for a lifetime.”


This article was written by Cheryl P. Rose and originally appeared in the Portland Monthly 2018 Kids’ Health Annual magazine.