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Larry King's Magic Heals Hearts

Dr. Donnica Moore with Larry King at the Larry King Cardiac Foundation dinner in Washington DC
By John Morgan, Spotlight Health
With medical adviser Stephen A. Shoop, M.D.

CNN legend Larry King makes his living talking. When it comes to the Larry King Cardiac Foundation, he focuses acutely on making magic and miracles happen.

And last Thursday at the LKCF fundraising gala in Beverly Hills, King had his mojo working, surprising the star-studded audience by appearing from inside a magician's cabinet.

"This isn't a surprise. The sole purpose for starting this foundation was to help people," King says. "People who do not have the resources for these very expensive operations or who have fallen through the cracks because they work part-time and don't have adequate insurance. I had my heart surgery and I really had no idea how much it cost because insurance paid for it. But you would be surprised, shocked even, by how many people are not covered by insurance in this country. It's a national shame."

In attendance to honor film producer Robert Evans and philanthropist Jon Huntsman were such celebrity guests as Matthew McConaughey, Kelly Lynch, Robert Wuhl, Sidney Poitier, Leeza Gibbons, and Viacom chairman Sumner Redstone.

"My family has quite a history of heart disease," Wuhl says. "My father died of heart disease and any time I can help I'm there. We're lucky in some ways. There's a lot we can do now about preventing heart disease."

"Unfortunately, I haven't made near enough changes in my lifestyle," the former Arliss star adds. "The biggest change is probably watching my diet a little better. The changes I haven't made are a far longer list."

One person all too familiar with life changes is Evans.

Evans, who was presented the Spirit of Life award, survived a stroke several years ago. The producer of such classics as The Godfather and Chinatown was visibly moved throughout the evening.

"This may be the most special night of my life," Evans says. "I was a thin hair away from dying, but it was the heart that fought so hard so I could make it. Heart is everything to me. Without heart I could never have done what I've been able to do in my life. You have to have heart."

Rod Stewart sang from his heart, entertaining the crowd and closing the festivities which raised nearly one million dollars.

"Larry asked me to perform and of course I said I would," says Stewart. "If I'm in town, I'm always available for a charity like this that does such great work. I've been lucky because heart disease has not touched my family - my dad is 98 and my mum is about 143 - and they're doing great. I'd be blessed to live as long."

Healing hearts

The LKCF does just that - help people live longer.

To date the LKCF has helped 60 people get the life-saving care they needed for their heart conditions. One of the lucky recipients of the LKCF's recent largess is a seven year-old West Indian child, Kristel Julien.

Julien has Kawasaki disease, an acute vasculitis -- inflammation of the blood vessels -- of unknown cause that occurs predominantly in infants and young children. While the incidence of the disease varies geographically, striking those of Japanese heritage at a rate of approximately 90 cases per 100,000 children under age five, American kids suffer from it as well (10-15 cases per 100,000).

"Kawasaki disease has bypassed acute rheumatic fever as the leading cause of acquired heart disease in American children," reports Gerard Martin, executive director, Center for Heart, Lung and Kidney Disease and chief of cardiology at Children's National Medical Center in Washington D.C. "It is a very significant problem."

The most serious problem afflicting children with Kawasaki disease is coronary artery aneurysms -- a ballooning-out of a portion of the vessel -- that develop in about 15%-25% of untreated children. This condition may progress to myocardial infarction, sudden death or coronary artery insufficiency.

Symptoms of Kawasaki disease can include:

  • Fever
  • Conjunctivitis (pink eye)
  • Redness of the lips or mouth
  • Swelling of the extremities
  • Rash
  • Swollen lymph nodes

Diagnosis is made by physical exam and patient history. If untreated, the disease can be fatal. Martin says that once a child is diagnosed with Kawasaki disease, doctors look to see if there is evidence of cardiac abnormalities.

"We examine the heart by using an echocardiogram, a machine that uses sound waves to image heart structure and heart function," Martin explains. "Echocardiograms are non-invasive and painless. It's great for kids and for adults."

An echocardiogram is essential in finding the abnormalities up front. If abnormalities are present, the machine is also used to monitor the child and the progression of their heart condition.

"Specifically, we look at the coronary arteries because the problem with Kawasaki disease is vasculitis - the inflammation can be of the heart muscle itself or the coronary arteries," Martin clarifies. "Early on in the disease we can see a swelling of the heart muscle and later we see an aneurysm of the coronary arteries."

"Kristel was diagnosed by a doctor in Grenada with a giant coronary artery aneurysm, making her the most susceptible to development of myocardial infarction," Martin says. "A heart catheterization, which looks for the severity of heart vessel disease, is recommended for people with aneurysms."

The catheterization also can detect any evidence of stenosis, or narrowing, that may indicate a person is at risk for heart attack.

Magical intervention

Through the efforts and financing of LKCF, Kristel was flown to the United States where the catheterization procedure was performed at Children's National Medical Center.

"Heart catheterization is the gold standard test," says Martin, who is also on LKCF's physician advisory board. "We were able to grade the severity of Kristel's vessel disease. We now know she's at risk of developing abnormalities so she'll get screening tests that look for problems that develop based on our initial findings."

"She has a 30-50% risk of developing abnormalities that would result in her needing catheter-based treatment or surgery for her coronary artery disease at some point," Martin says.

According to Martin, the long-term management of Kristel's condition calls for echocardiograms every six months to monitor her heart function. "It would be best if she could be cared for at home," Martin says.

On an island without an echocardiogram machine this presented a problem.

But like magic, King and the foundation seemingly pulled a rabbit out of the hat.

A timely donation of a portable echocardiogram unit was made by Siemens, manufacturers of the Cypress echocardiography system which produces a high quality, complete echocardiology exam.

"We felt that helping children and identifying disease early is an extremely worthwhile cause," says John Pavlidis, president, Siemens Ultrasound Division. "It was especially gratifying because the donation of this machine will help kids who don't have access to good medical care or this type of potentially lifesaving technology."

"It's portable so it can travel to the islands," Shawn King says as co-founder of LKCF. "An echocardiogram is standard procedure in American hospitals - everyone who goes in for a heart checkup gets an echocardiogram."

"What makes the donation special is this echocardiogram isn't going to help just Kristel, it's going help many children," Martin adds.

"A lot of companies like Siemens help us," King says. "This very generous donation of technology allows us to do more. The more we can do; the better it is."

Nothing magical about that.

Click here for more information about the Larry King Cardiac Foundation.

Spotlight Health is the leading creator of celebrity-featured health-issue awareness campaigns, connecting consumers with impassioned celebrities whose personal health battles can open eyes, dispel myths and change lives. Spotlight Health helps sufferers and caregivers meet the challenges of difficult health circumstances with understandable, in-depth medical information, compassionate support and the inspiration needed to make informed healthcare choices.

Created: 2/1/2003  -  John Morgan & Stephen A. Shoop, M.D.

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