Parents of children with congenital heart disease

Pacemakers

The heart has its own 'natural' pacemaker. A group of cells on the right side of the heart transmit regular electrical impulses across the two atria. The heart needs these electric signals to make it beat.

Some children are born with an arrhythmia, when the heart beat is irregular, or too slow (for example, bradycardia). Sometimes children develop an arrhythmia as a result of heart surgery because the pathway along which the electric signals travel has become blocked or damaged. To help maintain a steady, regular heartbeat an artificial pacemaker is implanted. This is a small battery and tiny computer which is usually placed in the chest wall or abdomen, just under the skin. 

We interviewed two mothers whose children had a pacemaker.

One seven-year-old boy, who had bradycardia (a slow heart beat) since birth, had a pacemaker implanted when he was nearly seven because his heart beat had become increasingly slow as he got older.

His mother describes what her son's operation and recovery was like. He was ready to return to school three days after his operation and his return was delayed a bit longer because the school worried about infections until his stitches were removed. Three months after the operation he was adjusting to having a pacemaker, but felt quite nervous about getting knocked or kicked during football or in the playground, and felt conscious of where it was in his body. She says he is a completely different child since his operation. Whereas before he was a reluctant sportsman, he now has lots of energy and went skiing for the first time 3 weeks after his operation.

A 5-year-old girl had a pacemaker implanted when she was two-and a-half, after she had collapsed and needed to be resuscitated due to post operative complications after corrective cardiac surgery. She only has the pacemaker as a backup in case her heart rate drops suddenly. Her mother explains that the pacemaker makes no difference to her daily life and has little effect on what her daughter can do. Before they left hospital, the family were shown a video about pacemakers for children which they found reassuring and helpful.

Both parents mentioned that having a pacemaker affected certain situations. They had been advised that their child should not take part in violent activities such as bungee-jumping or going on dodgems. And they were aware that they might set off alarms in the kind of electronic scanners used in airports. They were given a card to carry to explain this in awkward situations.

Last reviewed December 2014.

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