Not only is February Black History Month, it’s also American Heart Month, a time to raise awareness about heart health. And the perfect opportunity to introduce Beyond the Waiting Room’s newest Profiles of C.A.R.E feature, Dr. Jane Kao.
Dr. Kao is a pediatric cardiologist and holds a special place in my heart (pun intended) as the physician who diagnosed Catherine’s heart defect and told us she may have Down syndrome. Dr. Kao has been with us from day one and is still an integral part of Catherine’s healthcare and our lives. I’m honored for her to share her story with you.
Dr. Kao’s journey to pediatric cardiology actually started with her as a caregiver when she was only 11 years old.
“During the summers when I was between 11 and 13, I took care of a little boy that lived in my neighborhood. He was four and had leukemia and at that time I didn’t know what that was. All I knew was that he was sickly and frail all the time. I would see him go in to get his chemo and coming back out really sick. So, I saw what he was going through and witnessed his struggles.
Christopher died when he was seven. I remember not wanting to go to the memorial service because I was depressed and my mother asking me, ‘Well, if you don’t want to go, what do you want me to tell Christopher’s mother?’ I thought about it and said, “Tell her that when I grow up, I want to care of children like Christopher.”
Dr. Kao took her vow to care for sick children seriously and now has a thriving medical practice in Dallas, Texas. One of the most important aspects of her job is to prepare the family for what’s to come once she’s confirmed there’s a heart defect. She explains that congenital heart defects are the number one birth defect and the most common, occurring in 1% of all live births.
She sits down with the family, explains the anatomy of a normal heart, then shows them a picture of their child’s heart and points out the differences. This is what she did for Lillian and Merle fourteen years ago.
“Lillian had a high-risk ultrasound and her high-risk OB-GYN noted there was something wrong with the baby’s heart. She was referred to me for a further detailed scan of Catherine’s heart. What I do is make the diagnosis and provide the medical care. The actual surgery is done by a congenital heart surgeon.”
Even though Dr. Kao isn’t directly involved with the surgery, she still makes sure the families are prepared.
“I explain what needs to be done, the surgical process and procedures. Sometimes there’s one surgery that needs to be done, sometimes there’s multiple. I give them a timeline, what to expect, length of hospitalization, going home, what medications they need to administer. I go over all of that.”
But for some, it’s just too much.
“I have to kind of gauge because some parents are so overwhelmed they really can’t handle anything beyond the initial expectation. So, as things progress I need to give them more and more information. Knowing ahead of time obviously can cause a lot of anxiety but in the long run it helps the family to cope. It also helps the child, because everyone knows what to expect.”
Dr. Kao considers her work with her patients a gift.
“Sometimes I feel like I get more out of it than my patients do. I feel very honored to take care of these kids. Catherine is a perfect example of being able to see my patients evolve over time. I saw her as a baby and how sick she was and now look at her. Her heart is fully repaired. Having a part in that is one of the most rewarding aspects of my profession.”
Written by: Tamara Devers