Bringing specialized heart care where it’s needed

Bringing specialized heart care where it’s needed

Imagine if your baby needed ongoing specialized cardiac care -- and no doctor in your town could provide it.

That’s the prospect facing families throughout rural Kentucky and into parts of Ohio and West Virginia. So for the past decade now, University of Louisville Physicians has brought expert care to children, teens and adults with known or suspected heart conditions in these areas.

Once a month, UofL Physicians pediatric cardiologists and staff travel from Louisville to Ashland, Ky., for example, to provide local care as a convenience to patients and families who otherwise would have to make the long drive elsewhere to receive specialized care.

In partnership with Kosair Children’s Hospital, UofL Physicians fills the gap for families in outlying areas with a statewide network from Paducah to Ashland that provides specialized services, including outpatient clinics and diagnostic testing locally and via telemedicine. UofL Physicians pediatric cardiology specialists have been providing heart care to children and adults in the Ashland area for over 10 years, serving patients in parts of Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia.

Patients are currently seen two days a month. In addition to Ashland, the UofL Physicians team travels to seven other rotating sites across the state.

Having this type of expert care close to home is helpful for patients like 2-year-old Bonnie Gandee, who was diagnosed by UofL Physicians in Ashland with congenital heart disease before she was born. 

Brian Holland, M.D.A routine ultrasound for her mother, Anna, revealed something could be wrong with her baby’s heart. With no specialists near her hometown of Pedro, Ohio, she was referred to UofL Physicians Pediatric Cardiology for a fetal cardiac scan.

Brian Holland, M.D., determined that Bonnie had very complicated congenital heart disease, with her heart lacking all four of the chambers seen in a normal, healthy heart. It was clear she would need several surgeries to correct the problem.

Erle Austin IIIWhile her family could have taken her to a larger city in Ohio for treatment, her mother, Anna, said the Ashland office was convenient and “we liked Dr. Holland. We liked Louisville, and we liked Kosair Children’s Hospital and, being attached to Norton Hospital, we could be at same hospital with her when she was born.”

Bonnie ultimately had three surgeries, the first at just two weeks old and the most recent at almost 2 years of age, all performed by UofL Physicians heart surgeon Erle Austin III, M.D.

Brad Keller, M.D.Now that her surgeries are complete, Bonnie only has to see Brad Keller, M.D., her regular cardiologist with UofL Physicians, every 6 months in Ashland.

“Living in Ohio, it’s great that we can see him in Ashland, which is just 25 minutes away. There is not really anything around here,” Anna said. And with an hour round trip to appointments instead of six-and-a-half hours, “it’s less stress on the family” to try to find child care for Bonnie’s 4-year-old brother, she said.

 Worldwide, nearly one in every 100 babies is born with some type of heart disease, making congenital heart disease the most common birth defect. Bonnie is one of several children in Ashland to be diagnosed with congenital heart disease before she was born. Thanks to advances in medical care, more than 90 percent of children born with congenital heart disease now survive well into adulthood.

With the recent addition of Craig Alexander, M.D., UofL Physicians has the first doctor in Kentucky who has advanced fellowship training in the care of adult congenital heart disease (ACHD).

Patients seen remotely in areas such as Ashland can be referred to the Kosair Children’s Hospital Heart Center in Louisville if advanced testing, hospitalization or invasive catheter-based or surgical care is required. The Heart Center is staffed by pediatric cardiologists, subspecialists and heart surgeons with UofL Physicians.

In all, there are more than 2 million people of all ages with congenital heart disease in the United States alone. Thousands live in Kentucky, and many of these patients are now adults with congenital heart disease. 

To refer a patient to the UofL Physicians Ashland office, call 502-585-4802, Ext. 246. For more information on UofL Physicians pediatric cardiology and adult congenital heart disease services around the state, visit