Heart to Heart with Cardiologist Dr. Rajiv Verma

This post was sponsored by NJ Mom & RWJ Barnabas Health, all options expressed are my own. 


Whether you are a new or seasoned mom, making sure your baby (big or small) is healthy and thriving is always top priority. I recently had the opportunity to interview Dr. Rajiv Verma, MD, FACC, FSCAI, and Director of the 
Children’s Heart Center at Children’s Hospital of New JerseyatNewark Beth Israel Medical Center, an RWJBarnabas Healthfacility, in partnership with NJMOM. Dr Verma’s team works to provide the very best care and a fully integrated approach to the treatment of all types of congenital heart disease. They hold expertise in both adult and pediatric cardiac imaging, complex congenital heart surgery, and more. The Children’s Hospital of New Jersey is an affiliate of RWJBarnabas Health, New Jersey’s largest integrated delivery system in health care, that serves pediatric patients exclusively, in a calming and compassionate atmosphere. They offer treatment in nearly 30 pediatric subspecialties, which includes the Children’s Heart Center. This comprehensive cardiac program includes therapeutic and preventative programs to help their patients achieve and maintain good health.

See our interview with Dr. Verma below where we discussed everything from telltale signs of congenital heart disease, foods to avoid, suggested exercise tips and more.

 

Q. What does a regular day look like for you?

A. As a pediatric cardiologist, I see patients everyday who have suspected or known heart disease. Being board certified in adult congenital heart disease as well I also see adults. I have a passion in interventional cardiology. I also provide additional opinions related to complicated cases, especially transcatheter therapy.

Q. Who tends to suffer from congenital heart disease more, children or adults?

A. Children are born with CHD at a reasonably steady rate. Therapeutic measures have advanced dramatically over the years. Thus, even those with complex lesions are now expected to survive and drow to adult life. There are more adults living with CHD in the USA than children.

Q. What are some telltale signs for parents to question if their child suffers from congenital heart disease?

A. The signs depend on age:

Newborn: For any breathing that’s abnormally fast, discolored lips / lips turning blue, profuse sweating, they should be seen immediately.

Young children: Signs include fainting/passing out while playing/physical activity, repeated dizzy spells.

Q. What’s the #1 reason why patients visit you:

A. Murmurs are most the common referral from pediatricians. A murmur is simply the noise of  blood flowing through the heart.  The majority of referrals we get questioning heart murmurs end up normal (innocent murmurs).

Q. How does your pediatric care differ from your adult care?

A. We make extra time for our pediatric patients when it comes to critically important questions. Teenagers and young adults are scared but they often don’t verbalize their fears. We try to develop a relationship and bond with children, spend time and form an open line of communication. We also explain how each procedure and medications help them at various stages. -Young adults are -concerned about their own mortality and about starting a family/their future children. For our youngest patients, we go to great lengths to explain to parents not to be guilty of their child’s condition.


Q. What is a heart healthy diet?

A. I don’t believe in diets. If you are not allergic to something, you can eat it, in moderation. A fruit and vegetable heavy diet that is low fat but offers a healthy variety of proteins is best. Some things are non negotiable such as, eating meals regularly, no skipping meals, breakfast is very important, balanced meals / not a huge amount but balance is key. Water is best. For milk, if two and over, the maximum serving suggested is 8oz of whole milk, anything more should be skim. Most kids eat until they are full, do not force feed as this creates bad habits in the future. Family meals are very effective, when children see parents eating healthy, home cooked meals they emulate those habits. A great way to check if a child is on a balanced diet is to track their BMI, it should be stable; it shouldn’t jump around. And of course no smoking, drugs, and alcohol.

Key foods to include in your diet are lots of leafy greens, beans, lentils, legumes and quinoa. Protein spices for meat eaters include eggs and baked chicken & fish. If you’re going to have red meat, limit yourself to 8oz once a month. Avoid fried meats. For a vegetarian diet, derive proteins from foods such as paneer and tofu.

Q. How much should a child exercise to strengthen but not disrupt a developing heart?

A. For young children there are no restrictions as most physical activities are social. Once they are older, middle school age or playing an organized sport there is no restriction for aerobic exercise; any and all movement is good. When it comes to weights, one must understand muscle size is not the same as muscle strength. With severe isometric strain, cardiac muscle also enlarges and in some can lead to fibrosis in the future. To build muscle strength and tone, repetitive motions are best, less weight but more reps. For boys a max of 40lb and for girls a max of 25/30lb. Higher repetitions with less weight is a healthy way to gain muscle strength and size. Avoid steroids as they destroy muscle fibers but enhance size, they also strain the heart muscle. Additionally, stay away from energy drinks and some protein bars, they have too many chemicals and stimulants.

Q. Processed deli meats are listed as Class A carcinogenics, but yet parents are not advised to avoid giving these foods to children. Why? 

A. There are medical organizations (AHA, ACC, AAP) that are constantly working toward elimination of such foods. In addition, families must educate themselves and their children. Our role as cardiologists is to provide education and support for the families too.  I would avoid processed deli meats in a child’s diet.

I hope that gave you a little more insight to pediatric heart health. I’m certainly thankful for this wonderful learning opportunity. 

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