Ruchika Karnik, MBBS, (a medical degree awarded in several countries outside of the U.S.), is a general pediatric cardiologist who diagnoses and manages congenital and acquired heart disease for pediatric patients from newborn stage to adolescence. She has an additional focus on fetal cardiology, including fetal echocardiography (ultrasound) which encompasses care for pregnant women who are at high risk to give birth to a baby with a heart defect, or who are carrying a fetus with suspected heart disease.
Many patients are referred to Dr. Karnik by obstetricians who suspect a fetus has a heart defect or arrhythmia (an abnormal heart beat or rhythm). She starts by taking an image of the structural components of the tiny heart, and makes sure the heart rate is normal for the gestational age. “Sometimes when they do have issues with fetal arrhythmias, we have to treat them through the mother. So, then we are kind of taking care of two patients at the same time,” she says.
Families often walk into a pediatric cardiologist's office with a lot of anxiety, Dr. Karnik says. “Usually, I find drawing pictures of a heart with the heart defects is very helpful,” she adds. “I think just the simple hand-drawn pictures go a long way toward connecting them with what I'm seeing. Then, I can help them navigate through the whole process of what it means for the child. Does this need surgery? Does this need any other intervention? What does it mean in the long term for the child?”
Some cases are complex and difficult, but many children are treated and go on to enjoy a normal life, Dr. Karnik says. “It's so gratifying. I find that children are so resilient. In spite of all of the worries and concerns, they often prove us wrong, and they leave the hospital smiling and playing. I go home very happy on the days when that happens.”