CHEO program helps teen patients transition to adult care

From the moment she was born, CHEO has been an essential part of Heather MacMurdo’s life.

But soon, the 17-year-old, who was born with a congenital heart defect, will be moving on to the University of Ottawa Heart Institute.

“I’m nervous and I’m excited,” she said. “I don’t want to say goodbye.”

At just 10 days old, MacMurdo had her first of six open heart surgeries, five of them at CHEO.

“My hardest goodbye is going to be my cardiologist,” she said. “She’s been with me since day one. Saying goodbye to all the doctors is going to be hard.”

Helping with this transition is CHEO’s ‘youth coping skills’ group dedicated to patients aged 13 to 18 dealing with a cardiovascular issue.

Led by counselor Inga Bohnekamp in virtual sessions, the goal is to develop coping skills that address the anxiety and stress surrounding self-care, living with a chronic condition and transitioning into adult care.

“Bringing the youth together is the first step in knowing their experience they are not alone,” Bohnekamp said.

Teaching techniques and strategies like meditation and breathing exercises, each person is also given the chance to virtually connect and share their experiences in a safe environment.

“Sometimes when you’re with your close friends they know your story, but they don’t understand what it’s like to go through a surgery,” MacMurdo said.

“We’re experts at treating their hearts, their heart disease. But we have to remember it’s more than just the heart,” said Dr. Jane Lougheed, the chief of pediatric cardiology at CHEO. “We’re interested in overall wellness for our kids.”

The support group was borne of a parent initiative and need identified by the cardiology team at CHEO.

“A lot of our patients come to the cardiology visit feeling very stressed in what’s about to happen,” Lougheed said. “To help children and youth to cope is in everyone’s best interest.”

CHEO says a program like this would not be possible without the help from donors.

MacMurdo recently wrapped up a six-week session and while it took some time to get comfortable she’s grateful for the program.

“Knowing there’s people with similar issues and CHEO thinking about us during this difficult time has been really nice.”

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