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Heart Research Grants at Work in Virginia

Matt Brown was born with heart defects, but his family says medical research has meant he can climb to the top of the steps featured in the movie "Rocky." (YouTube/The Brown Family)
Matt Brown was born with heart defects, but his family says medical research has meant he can climb to the top of the steps featured in the movie "Rocky." (YouTube/The Brown Family)
December 23, 2016

RICHMOND, Va. - Funding from the American Heart Association to study heart defects is doing a lot of good in Virginia, according to families and medical researchers.

The Heart Association and the Children's Heart Foundation recently announced grants totaling more than $1 million for projects in several states, including Virginia.

The research aims to help children with congenital defects such as 7-year-old Matthew Brown of Chesapeake. He was born with a complex set of heart problems and has had five major surgeries, culminating in a heart transplant two-and-a-half years ago. His mother, Kelly Brown, credits the research with saving Matthew's life.

"I believe that he would not be alive today if the American Heart Association had not funded the research that has been done in the past," she said, "and they are continuing to research even more ways that they can help patients like Matthew."

The American Heart Association and The Children's Heart Foundation have said they plan to have funded more than $20 million in congenital heart-defect research by the end of 2021.

Xiaoying Cai, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Virginia, received one of the grants. She's working on improving how magnetic-resonance imaging tests are given. To get a clear image, Cai said, patients are asked to hold their breath for 10 to 20 seconds - but not every patient can understand or comply with the directions.

"Ideally, we don't want to do that, especially for children or patients who can't hold their breath for too long," she said, "and I want to make this technique of free-breathing to image, say, children."

By the end of the two-year fellowship funded by the grant, Cai said, she hopes to have a proven technique for MRIs that allows the patient to breathe normally during the test.

More information is online at heart.org.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - VA