More @ MCW and CHW improve adult congenital heart disease care

Partnering for lifelong heart care

With more than 100 different forms of congenital heart disease, and survival rates improving from 10% to 90% in the last 30 years, the Wisconsin Adult Congenital Heart Disease Program provides essential care for a growing group of patients.

Dr. Michael G. Earing follows up with Jenni Sego of Racine, his patient in the Wisconsin Adult Congenital Heart Disease Program, and her daughter Cassie.

Dr. Michael G. Earing follows up with Jenni Sego of Racine, his patient in the Wisconsin Adult Congenital Heart Disease Program, and her daughter Cassie. Both mother and daughter were diagnosed with congenital heart defects that were successfully repaired by MCW specialists at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin.

The mother-daughter bond between Jenni and Cassie Sego includes the shared experience of congenital heart disease, but their resilience and choice of expert care will ensure heart health remains their family’s legacy.

One in every 100 children is born with a heart defect, but with improvements in cardiac surgery and subspecialty care, 90 percent of these children now will survive to adulthood. Jenni Sego, whose partial atrioventricular canal defect was repaired in 1975 at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin when she was
4 years old, is a survivor.

With patients like Jenni in mind, the Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW), Children’s Hospital and Froedtert Hospital partnered to create the Wisconsin Adult Congenital Heart Disease Program, known as WAtCH, in 2004. Originally comprising 150 patients with a half-day of clinic per week, the program has grown to serve 2,000 patients annually in a full-time clinic plus four outreach sites across the state, making it one of the largest in the country.

“An experienced congenital heart disease center is important because the majority of these patients have unique problems that most adult or pediatric cardiologists do not have experience identifying or treating,” said Michael G. Earing, MD, WAtCH Director. “All of our physicians have specialized training to care for the adult with congenital heart disease, and it’s what we do every day.”

Jenni was not yet a patient in the WAtCH Program when she gave birth to Cassie, her third child, in 2006. Cassie immediately showed serious signs of distress and at 3 weeks old was diagnosed with transposition of the great arteries with a large ventricular septal defect. Pediatric cardiothoracic surgeon Michael E. Mitchell, MD, repaired Cassie’s defect at Children’s Hospital’s Herma Heart Center, and today, she is an active, thriving 7-year-old.

Less than two years later, however, another heart defect, undiagnosed her entire life, threatened Jenni’s health. High blood pressure brought her to Dr. Earing, who found a significant obstruction of her aorta. James S. Tweddell, MD, performed open heart surgery on Cassie’s mom, who also required a procedure by electrophysiologist Anwer Dhala, MD, in 2009 to correct an irregular heartbeat.

While mother and daughter are doing well with no restrictions, they need lifelong monitoring for long-term complications, which is why WAtCH exists and why Jenni’s family is now committed to the program. “When I found out about my second surgery, I decided that I will make sure Cassie
follows up with her cardiac care for her entire life,” she said. “It’s something I didn’t do early enough for myself, but I’m much more attuned to it now.”

Dr. Earing is Professor of Pediatric Cardiology; Dr. Mitchell is Associate Professor of Pediatric Cardiothoracic surgery; Dr. Tweddell is Professor and Chief of Cardiothoracic Surgery at MCW and the S. Bert Litwin Chair in Pediatric Cardiothoracic Surgery at Children’s Hospital; Dr. Dhala is Clinical Professor of Pediatric Cardiology; and Peter Frommelt, MD, Professor of Pediatric Cardiology, is Cassie’s cardiologist.

MCW and CHW improve adult congenital heart disease care through research, training

The Wisconsin Adult Congenital Heart Disease (WAtCH) Program was created in 2004 to meet the growing number of people born with congenital heart defects living into adulthood due to improvements in cardiac interventions and care.

The WAtCH Program is a leader in clinical care for adults with congenital heart disease across the state, but its faculty and staff also are active in National Heart, Blood and Lung Institute-funded research to improve the care of adults with congenital heart disease. By studying the effectiveness of past interventions, investigators can learn from earlier generations how to best care for the next generation.

The program also has a leading role in the education of health care professionals, including physicians, nurses, echocardiogram teams and cardiac catheterization teams. It is one of only eight programs in the country to offer advanced clinical fellowship training in adult congenital heart disease. The subspecialty was recognized in 2012 by the American Board of Medical Specialties and the American Board of Internal Medicine, which offers the certification.

The WAtCH Program is part of Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin’s Herma Heart Center, which this year was ranked seventh best in the nation by Parents magazine and 11th best by U.S. News & World Report for pediatric heart care.

To make an appointment in the Adult Congenital Heart Disease Program, call (414) 266-6784. Email questions and comments to

Meet the MCW faculty who practice in the WAtCH Program as they discuss adult congenital heart disease care in a series of videos developed by Children’s Hospital.


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Page Updated 12/08/2015