CHT Team Blogs from AEPC conference – Joan Aiken & Dr Brian Craig

| 29th June, 2023

The Association for European Paediatric and Congenital Cardiology (AEPC) recently held its annual meeting in Dublin. The conference was organised jointly between the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Belfast and Childrens Health Ireland, based in Dublin. The All Island Congenital Heart Disease Network also played a role in the planning of the event.

Hear from Joan Aiken, CHT Research & Policy Officer and Dr Brian Craig, CHT Director below.

Eva and her dad with Professor Casey

Dr Gil Wernovsky addressing the conference

Eva and Amy reporting on their experiences

Hearts and Minds – The Brain in Congenital Heart Disease

Joan Aiken, CHT Research & Policy Officer

I attended on the first day, which was a special day dedicated to the brain and its development. World leading doctors and psychologists discussed neurodevelopment and neuroprotection. In particular, how best we can help support the developing brains of our heart children. The overall takeaway was…the future is bright!

Amongst the prestigious calibre of speakers where our own Professor Frank Casey and Dr Chris McCusker, who is the lead investigator in the Congenital Heart disease Intervention Programme (CHIP). Children’s Heartbeat Trust has been a partner in CHIP since it first began in 2000.

A very special and moving part of the day was the contribution made by two patients. One, Amy an 18 year old from Dublin and the other, 12 year old Eva Toman from Belfast. One of our very own heart warriors! Eva and Amy reported on their patient experiences and took part in a panel discussion, in front of hundreds of medics no less!! We are so grateful to Eva and her family for playing a very important role in making sure the voices of our young people are heard. Numerous medics addressed the conference about the impact Eva and Amy made in helping them understand how to do their jobs better.  Great job Eva and Amy!

My favourite speaker of the day was Dr Gil Wernovsky. Dr Wernovsky is a senior consultant in paediatric cardiology at Children’s National Hospital in Washington, one of the top five children’s hospitals in America. Dr Wernovsky spoke passionately (and often animatedly!) about ways to improve lifelong outcomes for children with CHD. Most encouraging of all, whilst he commended all the speakers on their fantastic contribution to the knowledge base, he said he was most excited about all the work happening in Belfast in trying to improve neurodevelopmental outcomes for our heart children!

It was a fantastic day, full of hope for the future of our heart kids and families.


Dr Brian Craig, CHT Director says:

I am grateful to CHT for supporting my attendance at AEPC 2023 in Dublin. I was able to attend on Thursday 27th and Friday 28th April and found the experience uplifting and encouraging in so many ways.

On Thursday morning I attended a session on Knowledge Translation and Research Implementation where Prof. Imelda Coyne emphasised the importance of Child and Family Centred Care. This was followed by an insightful talk from Dr Gil Wernowsky from Washington DC whose topic was that “We all want progress but are resistant to change” as he highlighted some of the human barriers to change.  In the afternoon I attended more clinically orientated sessions with the highlights being on a comprehensive overview of Complete Atrioventricular Septal Defect by our own Dr Andrew Sands, and a masterful presentation of managing late consequences of the Fontan circulation by our own Dr Chris. Lockhart!

On Friday morning I attended a thought-provoking session on a lifespan perspective in CHD. Prof. Eva Goosens from Antwerp University introduced an emerging population of over 60’s with CHD which is a completely new discipline!

The Florence Nightingale Lecture was delivered by Prof. Nancy Pike from UCLA and gave new insights into “Brain structure and function in adolescents with a Fontan circulation”. Prior to chairing a session on research in General Cardiology I was pleased to attend an excellent session on “Networks and Centres of Excellence” where our own Prof. Frank Casey eloquently presented the network in Ireland, a development which was is now quoted and used as a template for progress throughout Europe and the USA!  Prof. Dan Penny from Texas Children’s presented on the topic of “Building a centre of academic excellence” where he highlighted the importance of organisational culture and a partnership with patients and families.

It was a privilege and a pleasure to attend this conference. I especially enjoyed meeting colleagues old and new at the Irish Diaspora lunch on Thursday. I left the conference with the assurance that the specialty and in particular our patients have a bright future.


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