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LVHN Heart and Vascular Expertise Gets Global Exposure

Cardio-oncology and cardiac problems in pregnancy addressed in Thailand, Portugal

Cardiologist Deborah Sundlof, DO and Cardiologist Amy Ahnert, MD
Cardiologists Amy Ahnert, MD, (left) and Deborah Sundlof, DO, gave presentations recently.

Lehigh Valley Heart and Vascular Institute cardiologists and other Lehigh Valley Health Network (LVHN) doctors were international heart health ambassadors recently when they traveled to Thailand to discuss cardio-oncology and to Portugal for a conference on heart problems in pregnancy.

Cardiologist Deborah Sundlof, DO, co-director of both the Women’s Heart and Vascular Program and the Cardio-Oncology Center of Excellence at LVHN, addressed doctors at the 2,500-bed Siriraj Piyamaharajkarun Hospital in Bangkok, Thailand at the end of November. The hospital is associated with Mahidol University.

Cardiologist Amy Ahnert, MD, also co-director of the Women’s Heart and Vascular Program and co-director of the Cardio-Obstetrics Program, led an LVHN team who traveled to Porto, Portugal in October for the 7th International Congress on Cardiac Problems in Pregnancy. The congress focused on heart disease and pregnancy and the management of high-risk women.

Lehigh Valley Heart and Vascular Institute physicians are world-class and invitations to events like these really shows the depth and breadth of the expertise we have here,” says Ronald Freudenberger, MD, Physician in Chief, Lehigh Valley Heart and Vascular Institute.

A tie to Thailand

Sundlof said her connection to the Bangkok speaking opportunity started with a prior conversation she had with a cardiologist in Bangkok who was performing transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR) on her uncle. During their discussions, she discovered he was her junior fellow at Albert Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia. “One thing led to another, and I was asked to speak at their Department of Medicine grand rounds on Nov. 30,” Sundlof says. “Interestingly, my mother went to medical school at Siriraj and Mahidol in the 1950s.”

Sundlof gave her presentation – Cardio-Oncology: An Introduction – to about 150 physicians, fellows and residents of all medical disciplines. She says there are currently no cardio-oncologists in Thailand.

“My talk was well-received and there were a lot of questions,” Sundlof says. “They’ve identified a senior cardiology fellow who will start the first cardio-oncology program at Siriraj. I connected them with the International Cardio-Oncology Society and will continue to serve as an expert mentor for their program.”

Certain cancer treatments can weaken heart muscle, a condition known as cardiotoxicity. It can raise blood pressure, or cause the heart to beat out of sync, a condition known as arrhythmia. The goal of the Heart and Vascular Institute’s cardio-oncology program is to minimize or prevent heart-related problems due to cancer treatments.

LVHN’s cardio-oncology program earlier this year received a gold-level Center of Excellence designation from the International Cardio-Oncology Society. Less than three dozen centers of excellence worldwide have a gold level designation.

Talking pregnancy risks in Portugal

In Portugal, Ahnert and her team gave four presentations for an international audience including one on an algorithm for preconception counseling for women with a genetic disorder that produces very high cholesterol. The group also discussed a rare aortic disorder in pregnancy and an internal LVHN study that examined potential links between abnormally fast heart rates known as tachycardia, and preeclampsia.

Along with Ahnert were her Cardio-Obstetrics Program Co-Director Joanne Quinones, MD, from maternal fetal medicine, cardiology fellow Lekha Racharla, DO, internal medicine resident Catherine Nguyen, DO, and OB-GYN resident Jennifer Heibig, DO.

The group also detailed LVHN’s novel Heart Health After Preeclampsia Program. Preeclampsia is a high blood pressure disorder that can occur in pregnancy. “The program identifies women who have had preeclampsia. We know they have an increased risk of developing heart disease in the future and our goal is to decrease that risk in this population,” Ahnert says.

“Our talks were very well-attended. It definitely gives significant visibility to our program and the work we do here,” Ahnert says. “This is part of our Cardio-Obstetrics Program, a multi-disciplinary effort between cardiology and maternal fetal medicine. We started this program over 10 years ago and were one of the first in the country.”

Lehigh Valley Heart and Vascular Institute

Lehigh Valley Heart and Vascular Institute

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