Abu Dhabi: The largest number of cardiac surgeries across the Emirate has recently been detected among newly born babies and infants, with a total of 237 pediatric cardiac surgeries alone this past year.

Since the sole pediatric cardiac surgery department in the Emirate is available at Sheikh Khalifa Medical City (SKMC), Gulf News learns that newly borns and infants undergo a larger number of open heart surgeries than adults with a total of 420 patients born with congenital heart diseases across the UAE.

According to Dr. Laszlo Kiraly, Head, Senior Consultant, Pediatric Cardiac Surgery, the birth rate in the UAE is 2.5 times higher than in European countries, which results in a higher number of pediatric cardiac patients.

Statistics point out that since April 4 2007 to October 14 2008, 32 per cent (75 patients) of heart surgeries were performed on neonates (from one to 30 days old) and 30 per cent (72 per cent) on infants (from one to six months old); the rest of the 38 per cent (90 patients) includes patients older than six months, including five grown up congenital heart disease patients (GUCH).

"The heart is the first organ in a baby to function, 21 days after the baby is conceived and the last organ to receive maturation, most of our pediatric heart patients are born with a major genetic defect in the heart," said Kiraly.

Common heart conditions among newly born babies includes a cardiac arrest a few hours after birth, or a cardio respiratory failure which affects the lungs and the ability to breathe. Another condition known as Univentricular Heart is a congenital heart defect and one of the most complex types of heart defects present at birth. It occurs when the fetal heart doesn't develop normally early in the first trimester of pregnancy.

"The symptoms for a univentricular heart condition include being blue around the mouth and the nails; 40 per cent of our pediatric cardiac patients suffer from this condition, which is a high percentage," said the Consultant.

The most common cardiac condition, amounting to 40 per cent of pediatric heart patients, is ventricular septal defect (VSD). The septum is a wall that separates the heart's left and right sides. Septal defects are sometimes called a hole in the heart. A defect between the heart's two lower chambers (the ventricles) is called a VSD.

"Till now we don't have answers to what causes VSD but we believe its related to genetic problems and/or a viral infection. The symptoms on a VSD is if the baby appears fatigue or is not eating properly. Breathing also becomes shallow. These symptoms usually appear during the first few months after pregnancy," said Kiraly, who added that during a VSD surgery, a horizontal incision minimizes the scar on the child.

"I don't see a point in performing a plastic surgery on the child after a VSD surgery. You cannot really improve the scar. A babys skin flaps are also extendable allowing us to use a much smaller incision that can go below four centimeters," he added.

Most VSD patients reach adulthood with a life expectancy above 80 per cent. "Pedriatric surgery does require an organized follow up however and is usually assisted by a second and even third surgery till the babies valves stop growing in size."