'Laptop' ultrasound unit sought for heart-defect babies

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 December, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 13 December, 2007, 12:00am

Every year 450 to 500 babies suffering from various congenital heart defects are born in Hong Kong.

The problems, involving abnormal or incomplete development of the heart, may be a result of genetic problems in the family, or drug-taking or infection during pregnancy. Of the large variety of heart defects, many pose a critical threat to the children's lives and patients need to endure long-term treatment as well as complex surgery.

The Children's Heart Foundation, one of the 18 beneficiaries of this year's Operation Santa Claus, is seeking to introduce a portable ultrasound machine to provide echocardiogram examinations, the mainstay of diagnostic evaluation for heart problems.

The portable machine will be used at the Grantham Hospital in Aberdeen, the only referral centre for children suffering heart diseases in Hong Kong. The centre accepts more than 95 per cent of child patients with these problems.

Chau Kai-tung, chief of service in the paediatric cardiology division of the hospital, said that the ultrasound machines currently used in the hospital were all large and bulky and required patients to receive examinations at a fixed location.

'But the portable machine, which is only slightly heavier than a laptop computer, will enable paediatric cardiologists to readily perform echocardiograms on patients at outpatient clinics or other places, without asking them to go to a specific room to wait for doctors,' Dr Chau said. 'It will significantly improve clinical efficiency and shorten patients' waiting times.'

The portable machine, he added, would be especially useful for patients who were handicapped and for small babies who either had trouble getting transportation or could not afford to wait long.

Paediatric cardiologists from the hospital can also carry the portable machine to another hospital to perform examinations on sick children who cannot be transported. The machine is expected to benefit 300 to 400 children each year.