Fetal Cardiology Program

About our program

The Fetal Cardiology Program at the Children's Healthcare of Atlanta Heart Center provides complete consultation services for expectant mothers whose unborn children have suspected or known heart problems.

Led by Erik Michelfelder, MD, the Fetal Cardiology Program is dedicated to providing exemplary care to the fetus diagnosed with structural or functional heart disease and supporting the fetus and expectant family in a compassionate, comprehensive manner. Conditions treated include structural heart disease, fetal arrhythmias and fetal cardiac dysfunction.

Our team performs more than 1,600 fetal cardiac evaluations and more than 36,000 transthoracic echocardiograms annually, making ours one of the largest fetal cardiology programs in the country. With 12 offices across Georgia, we provide convenient access to families needing fetal cardiac care throughout the state. We have 18 fetal cardiologists on staff with an average of more than 14 years of experience in fetal cardiology. Our extensive experience in cardiac imaging allows each family to receive a comprehensive, expert fetal cardiac evaluation, including a detailed plan and recommendations for future care to both the referring physician and the family.

What to expect

Once diagnosed, fetal heart problems are managed through an interdisciplinary approach within the Fetal Cardiology Program. Parents consult with cardiologists, cardiothoracic surgeons and cardiac interventionists as indicated for specific heart conditions. We collaborate closely with local and regional obstetricians, maternal-fetal medicine specialists, neonatologists and delivery centers to ensure that care planning and management of the fetus with heart disease is provided at the highest level. We also offer prenatal genetic counseling, social work support and interaction with specialized cardiac nurses.

Our team provides:

  • Family-centered care
  • Resources for counseling and educating families
  • Detailed information to help families understand the diagnosis
  • Assistance in birth planning and postnatal management of the newborn

When does a mother need to be seen?

You may be referred to a fetal cardiologist for a fetal echocardiogram if:

  • An ultrasound or anatomy scan shows a possible heart defect or problem in the baby
  • The mother, father or siblings of the baby have a history of heart problems
  • An abnormal or irregular heartbeat is heard in the baby
  • A genetic or chromosomal abnormality is identified in the baby
  • Abnormalities in the baby's other major organ systems, such as the brain, kidneys or lungs, are identified by ultrasound
  • The mother has a medical condition, such as diabetes, phenylketonuria (PKU), or a connective tissue disease, such as lupus or Sjogren's syndrome, that can affect the baby's heart
  • The mother has been exposed to viruses, certain medicines or drugs that can affect the development of the baby's heart

What is a fetal echocardiogram?

A fetal echocardiogram (echo) is an ultrasound just like the one you get at your obstetrician's office. A fetal echo uses sound waves to show your baby's heart in detail. The heart's structure is best seen between 18 and 22 weeks of pregnancy. A fetal echo takes approximately 40 to 60 minutes to complete, depending on the complexity of your baby's heart problem. 

What does a fetal echo do?

A fetal echo procedure will:

  • Check your baby's heart structure, rhythm and function.
  • Help make sure that the heart problem does not get worse.
  • Check to make sure your baby is growing and developing well.

If a fetal echo does show a serious heart defect, your baby may need further testing.

What if my baby has a heart defect?

If testing shows that your baby has a heart defect, we will work with the maternal-fetal medicine specialist, a high-risk obstetrician, to develop a follow-up schedule to monitor your baby. We will help you understand your baby's condition and needs so that you can make informed decisions for your family and baby.

If your baby's heart condition requires surgery after delivery, we can help prepare you ahead of time by connecting you with a surgeon and providing helpful resources.

Learning that your baby has a heart defect can be scary and difficult to comprehend. We have collaborated with other institutions and the Pediatric Congenital Heart Association to create a guided questions tool so that you know the right questions to ask your physician about your baby.

Learn more about the guided questions tool (en Español)

To learn more about our fetal cardiology program, contact Kendall Massey at 404-785-8745.