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Karen LeComte and her colleagues help young heart patients make the transition from BC Children’s Hospital to the Pacific Adult Congenital Heart Clinic at St. Paul’s.

Helping Young Heart Patients Transition to Healthy Adulthood


While the group of patients that Clinical Nurse Specialist Karen LeComte supports is relatively small, it grows exponentially each decade.

Karen works with young patients with congenital heart disease who, at 18, have aged out of BC Children’s Hospital and are transitioning to the Pacific Adult Congenital Heart Clinic at St. Paul’s to continue their care.

Not so many years ago, to reach the age of 18 would have been a challenge for a child born with a serious heart defect. Just two decades ago, many of these patients would not survive infancy or childhood.

“The evolution of surgical and medical interventions has changed everything,” says Karen. “Today, thanks to medical advances, many children born with congenital heart disease are able to live long, healthy lives.”

Karen is quick to praise the health professionals and medical investigators responsible for the body of work that has given so many people with congenital heart disease a new lease on life.

“They are pioneers,” says Karen. “Not so long ago, there was very little known about congenital heart disease, so they were creating this knowledge as they went along. Today, as this patient population ages, the field will continue to evolve as we address how to treat much older patients.”

St. Paul’s invests in transitional care

The Pacific Adult Congenital Heart Clinic at St. Paul’s, the provincial referral centre for adults with congenital heart disease, is unique in the way it supports young patients with the transition to adult care.

“There is support, and there are teams working at both St. Paul’s and BC Children’s Hospital to help these young patients make the transition,” says Karen.

When a child is born with congenital heart disease, they are cared for by a cardiologist and a pediatrician. Karen and her colleagues at the Pacific Adult Congenital Heart Clinic work to connect young heart patients coming of age with both GPs and the specialist cardiology team at this critical time where they could fall out of the care cycle.

The planning begins in pediatrics

Karen’s team at the Pacific Adult Congenital Heart Clinic works in close partnership with BC Children’s Hospital to keep young heart patients connected to care. Planning for the transition to adult care receives full attention from both hospital teams; as well, Karen’s team collaborates with other centres across North America to create youth friendly health initiatives.

“These patients are too old for the teddy bear wallpaper of a pediatric ward, of course,” says Karen, “but they are also too young for the usual hospital environment, which is geared toward older adults. So we aim to be youth savvy where we can. We aim to get our patients to put their appointments and health information on their phones, for example, not a piece of paper – it’s one more thing we can do to help that patient manage their health in a youth friendly manner.”

February is Heart Month

Donors to St. Paul’s Foundation have supported the Pacific Adult Congenital Heart Clinic through Enhanced Patient Care grants over the years. February is Heart Month, a great occasion to make a gift in support of the cardiac nursing care that is at the heart of St. Paul’s. Donate now.