Monday, October 3, 2011

Sisters with congenital heart disease don’t miss a beat

Samantha and Madelyn Kanter

Samantha and Madelyn Kanter

Living full lives

When you talk to Madelyn and Samantha Kanter, you have a hard time distinguishing their voices—the 24-year-old twins sound exactly alike.

And when you listen to them rattle off their busy schedules, Madelyn’s a middle school English teacher, Samantha is a photographer and event planner, you have no idea these young women also share a congenital heart disease.

The twins themselves don’t often notice, as their condition doesn’t affect their daily lives, “If I had amnesia, I would have no idea that I had this heart condition,” says Samantha. Madelyn agrees, “Besides the one extra doctor appointment a year, there’s nothing different about us.”

A familiar diagnosis

That wasn’t always the case. As infants, Madelyn and Samantha were diagnosed with an atrial septal defect after their pediatrician detected a heart murmur. Essentially a hole in the wall between the top chambers of the heart, atrial septal defect causes abnormal blood flow through the heart. Children often have few symptoms, but repairing the defect during childhood can prevent serious problems later in life.

The twins’ father underwent open-heart surgery for the same condition at age 9. Although open-heart surgery was an option for the twins, the Kanter family decided to wait for a less invasive approach. “Surgery was a lot more difficult for our dad, which is one of the reasons our parents wanted to wait,” says Samantha.

“Although we were diagnosed at a young age, we were able to wait more than 10 years for the technology to fix it without open heart surgery,” adds Madelyn.

In 2003, when the girls were 17, cardiologists at Children's Hospital Boston used catheter technology to repair the holes in the girls’ hearts. This minimally invasive procedure allowed doctors to perform the repair using a thin catheter inserted in a blood vessel in the girls’ legs, making for a quicker recovery and virtually unnoticeable scars. “Our dad has a huge zipper—a really big scar, and I can’t even find mine,” says Samantha.

Treating the whole person

Congenital Heart Disease

Mass General cardiologists work closely with patients like Madelyn and Samantha Kanter to manage congenital heart conditions so they can live full, healthy lives.

Learn about our Adult Congenital Heart Disease Program

Following high school graduation, the twins’ longtime pediatric cardiologist recommended they begin receiving adult care at Mass General’s Heart Center. The twins were referred to cardiologist Dr. Ami Bhatt, who specializes in adult congenital heart disease. “The transition to Mass General was surprisingly great and really easy,” says Madelyn. “We had a close relationship with our pediatric cardiologist and so I was a little worried about switching over, but Ami is unbelievable. I feel like I’ve known her my whole life.”

Dr. Bhatt goes beyond caring for the twins’ heart condition; she is also invested in helping the sisters live full, healthy lives. “I can talk to her about anything,” says Madelyn. “Ami is more involved than you expect a doctor to be.”

“Dr. Bhatt remembers everything, it’s really impressive,” Samantha adds. “She’s interested in my photography and she always remembers what I’m spending my time doing—jobs, relationships, everything that I have going on.” And the pair has a lot going on. In addition to their jobs, both sisters stay active. Madelyn prefers the gym, while Samantha runs, dances and does yoga.

While the girls are healthy and active, if something does come up that’s concerning, Madelyn says making an appointment with Dr. Bhatt is easy. “I had heart flutters earlier in the year. I just called her and went in,” she says. And it extends beyond Dr. Bhatt, the nurses and the Heart Center staff work together to deliver patients personalized care. “I don’t have to say my name at the desk, they know who I am. Everyone is so personable.”

As the twins get older, their care will evolve with them—something the sisters deeply appreciate. “Dr. Bhatt made sure to mention that when I decide to have a family she wants to be involved,” says Samantha. “When we discuss the future, I know I am in good hands as I move forward in my life.”

Learn more about Dr. Ami Bhatt and the Heart Center’s Adult Congenital Heart Disease Program.

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