Friday, May 14, 2010

Treadmill helps kids with troubled hearts

Caleb Schroeder received a heart transplant when just 22 days old in 1996. He's still going strong and does a lot of running at age 14. Amazing!

By: Melissa Martin Winnipeg Free Press

The machine clicks on, the purple-striped soccer jersey comes off, and 14-year-old Caleb Schroeder stands patiently while white-coated technologist Joy McCort tapes electrodes against his skin. "How do you feel?" she asks, straightening the wires that dangle from the teen's chest. "Are you ready to go?"

He's ready to go, and he's off, marching on a treadmill. McCort hovers nearby but the teen, toned from time spent playing soccer and street hockey, doesn't even break a sweat. If it wasn't for the electrodes and the wires and the jagged lines zipping by on an attached computer screen, you'd think he was just a kid going for a walk on his basement treadmill. But for many of the 4,000 children who come through the Variety Children's Heart Center each year, this is no home gym replacement. Rather, it's state-of-the-art technology that fills a missing piece in a sometimes overwhelming testing and treatment puzzle.

On Thursday, the Health Sciences Center's pediatric cardiology department unveiled the $35,000 industrial-strength treadmill, its latest gift from children's charity Variety. When kids like Schroeder use it, the signals streaming in from those chest electrodes can tell doctors how their hearts are holding up. For kids suspected of having heart problems, the data can help make a diagnosis. For children diagnosed with heart problems, or recovering from surgery, it could detect problems that could save their lives.

It came at just the right time. The department's old treadmill was suffering under 22 years of wear-and-tear. Its clunky, pre-digital printouts forced doctors to make a host of manual calculations. "It was really on its last legs in terms of being able to function," said Dr. Reeni Soni, who heads the department.

By contrast, the new machine offers instant paperless results and a plethora of programming options. "It makes our jobs a little easier," McCort said. "Equipment... gets outdated very quickly, because there's always something new. Now we have the latest."

The capabilities of the new machine are a boon to families of kids with heart problems. Schroeder's been hanging around the pediatric cardiology center his whole life, ever since he was born with a severely underdeveloped heart. On Valentine's Day 1996, when he was just 25 days old, Caleb got a heart transplant; he's healthy now, but it takes rigorous annual testing to ensure he stays that way.

Right now, the teen's family has to travel to Toronto each year to take those tests. But each time the Variety Children's Heart Center gets a new piece of equipment, it's one step closer to keeping Caleb home. "Travelling is fun at first, but after awhile it starts to wear off," chuckled Caleb's father, Harry Schroeder.

Within six months, the hospital hopes to acquire another $35,000 attachment that will measure kids' total exercise capacity. And that, in turn, could help more young transplant recipients and kids with troubled tickers build up their strength.

"I do a lot of running," Schroeder said. "I hope this gives other kids a chance to do some running, too."

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