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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Heart to heart: Portable echocardiogram machine cuts commuting times for patients outside of Spokane

Adults and children with congenital heart disease depend on regular echocardiograms to track the health of their hearts and until now they had to travel to Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center to do it.

A $50,000 grant from the Avista Foundation and funding from the Providence Health Care Foundation have purchased a portable echocardiogram machine that was dubbed Ella the Super Echo after a naming contest on social media.

Regular echocardiograms are crucial for people with congenital heart disease, said Dr. Pamela Burg, a pediatric cardiologist with the Providence Center for Congenital Heart Disease. She’s also a cardiologist with the Providence Adult and Teen Congenital Heart Program at Sacred Heart. The program is one of 11 centers in the country accredited by the Adult Congenital Heart Association.

“It allows us to evaluate the progression of their heart condition,” she said. “It helps us determine the timing of their next procedure.”

Infants and young children who are growing may need an echocardiogram every month while older and more stable patients may only need a scan once or twice a year, Burg said.

It’s not only residents of Eastern Washington and North Idaho who come to Sacred Heart for treatment. Patients living in Montana, Northeast Oregon and Central Washington also travel to Sacred Heart for medical care.

“We’re a regional medical center,” Burg said. “A lot of these patients have to travel.”

Having a portable echocardiogram machine allows the physicians to take their expertise out into the community, she said. The machine will visit Pullman, Moscow, Lewiston, Post Falls and Moses Lake on a regular schedule. They are also working to add locations in Walla Walla and the Omak-Okanogan area, Burg said.

“We contact the patients when it’s time to make the appointments,” she said. “These are built into our schedule.”

Rachel Naftzger is hoping that her 5-year-old daughter, Elliott, will be able to use the new machine. She was born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome and has had three open heart surgeries, her first when she was only 4 days old.

“There is a left side of her heart but it’s really, really small, and it doesn’t function,” Naftzger said.

Her daughter’s condition was diagnosed when she was still in the womb. “We were so fortunate to have that diagnosis while I was pregnant,” she said. “They knew exactly what to do. They had a plan for us.”

That plan has included regular trips from their home in Walla Walla to Spokane for echocardiograms. Naftzger and her husband also have a son 20 months older than Elliott, so travel to Spokane was a challenge. They would usually spend the night in a hotel and sometimes her husband couldn’t make the trip because of his job.

The new machine only started traveling the Northwest in December and Naftzger’s daughter was in Sacred Heart for a week just before Christmas and hasn’t had a chance to use it yet. But Natfzger is looking forward to eliminating some of the time-consuming and costly trips to Spokane.

“Not only does it save us a trip, it makes us be able to stay together as a family more,” she said. “We are just incredibly grateful.”

The Naftzger’s story is common, Burg said. Having the portable electrocardiogram move from community to community will minimize travel costs for families and minimize time lost at school and work. “It’s less of a disruption for their families,” she said.

Burg said she’s grateful to have the portable machine in her arsenal. “We’re so thankful to the foundation and Avista,” she said. “It allows us to do our job in the best way possible.”

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