Interdisciplinary cooperation: good for the heart

Renate Oberhoffer-Fritz (r), Dean of the Department of Sport and Health Sciences

Renate Oberhoffer-Fritz (r), Dean of the Department of Sport and Health Sciences, and Peter Ewert, Deputy Medical Director of the German Heart Centre München (c). The interview was conducted by Romy Schwaiger, member of the department of media and communication at the Department of Sport and Health Sciences (l). Image: Andreas Heddergott / TUM

Day of the Child with Heart Disease: Interview with Prof. Oberhoffer-Fritz und Ewert

Scientists of the German Heart Centre and the Faculty of Sports and Health Sciences have been successfully cooperating for many years. On the occasion of the "Day of the Child with Heart Disease" on May 5th, Prof. Renate Oberhoffer-Fritz, Dean of the Faculty of Sport and Health Sciences and holder of the Chair for Preventive Pediatrics, and Prof. Peter Ewert, Deputy Medical Director of the German Heart Center Munich and Director the Clinic for Congenital Heart Defects and Pediatric Cardiology present this fruitful interdisciplinary collaboration in this interview.

How many children with heart disease are you currently treating?

Prof. Ewert: "It is estimated that 6,000 children with congenital heart defects are born in Germany every year. We at the Heart Centre perform about 500 heart operations and 800 catheter examinations per year. In Germany only 200 children are born each year with the most severe heart defect, the so-called univentricular hearts, this is when someone has only half a heart. But these children in particular have very high needs over the course of their entire lives, both in terms of medical care and general support."

How did the cooperation between the Chair of Preventive Pediatrics and the German Heart Centre Munich come about?

Prof. Oberhoffer-Fritz: "I am a pediatric cardiologist by training and moved from the German Heart Centre Munich to the Department of Sport and Health Sciences in 2007 with the idea of preventing acquired cardiovascular diseases as early as possible and maintaining the connection to the German Heart Centre Munich. The cardiovascular system and sports science are very closely related, in terms of cardiovascular performance, the important issues of exercise."

Prof. Ewert: "And the cooperation has two aspects. On the one hand, children with heart disease also need to be supported in their motor skills. The two departments want to find out how physically resilient these children are and how they can be supported. The second aspect is that today’s healthy children are tomorrow’s heart patients. Therefore, one of the questions we are addressing is how to establish prevention in childhood so that there is less cardiovascular disease overall in an aging population. Cornerstones to the questions of healthy nutrition and better exercise are laid in childhood."

,,The combination of sports sciences and pediatric cardiac medicine is unique in this form in Germany, perhaps even in Europe, and can look back on a long history of success."

What in particular distinguishes the cooperation between the Department of Sport and Health Sciences and the German Heart Centre Munich?

Prof. Ewert: "The combination of sports sciences and pediatric cardiac medicine is unique in this form in Germany, perhaps even in Europe, and can look back on a long history of success. Over the years, around 2,000 examinations have been carried out on about 1,000 children with congenital heart defects as part of the cooperation. This has resulted in about 70 scientific publications. What sports science does at the Heart Centre, we cannot do as pediatric cardiologists. And the patients we treat at the Heart Centre are otherwise hardly accessible to sports science."

What is the objective of the joint collaboration?

Prof. Oberhoffer-Fritz: "The focal points of the cooperation are to improve the health of children who already have heart disease and to promote their daily lives through exercise concepts, as well as to prevent cardiovascular disease in sick children."

What projects are being carried out as part of the cooperation?

Prof. Ewert: "For example, we are investigating how capable children with congenital heart defects are. As an example, I would like to mention a male patient who has only ’half a heart’ and hiked to the Zugspitze with his father by foot. He lives with a hypoplastic left heart, the most severe heart defect there is, and still manages to climb the highest mountain in Germany. Impressive!"

Prof. Oberhoffer-Fritz: "We not only collect data, but also try to improve cardiovascular and pulmonary function through breathing training, for example. In addition, we offer exercise training, as in the innovative ’Digital Health Nudging’ project on web-based training. Here, the intervention group with patients with congenital heart defects is to be encouraged to be physically active over a period of three months using digital text or image messages on their smartphones. Another example is ’Skipping Hearts’, a still ongoing project of the German Heart Foundation, which also supports our two departments. It uses modern methods to motivate elementary school students to jump rope, which stimulates the circulation and is also good for coordination and against osteoporosis. TUM carried out the scientific evaluation of this nationwide project."

What role does interdisciplinarity play in your cooperation?

Prof. Ewert : "We are a brilliant example of interdisciplinarity! For me as a physician at the Heart Centre, it is a real gift that we have the sports scientists, because they can do things that we as physicians cannot. In the duality of patient care and research, we essentially deal with the diseases, but not what sports science deals with. So if you need a ’role model’ for interdisciplinarity: here’s an excellent one."

Prof. Oberhoffer-Fritz : "At the end of the day, our interdisciplinarity has invigorated the professional societies, because these topics were not represented before. For many years, the topics of exercise and sport and their importance for heart health have had their relevance in the German and European professional society of cardiology. Looking to the future, however, there is still a very great need here, especially for children."

"We are a brilliant example of interdisciplinarity! For me as a physician at the Heart Centre, it is a real gift that we have the sports scientists, because they can do things that we as physicians cannot"

What role does interdisciplinarity play in your cooperation?

Prof. Ewert : "We are a brilliant example of interdisciplinarity! For me as a physician at the Heart Centre, it is a real gift that we have the sports scientists, because they can do things that we as physicians cannot. In the duality of patient care and research, we essentially deal with the diseases, but not what sports science deals with. So if you need a ’role model’ for interdisciplinarity: here’s an excellent one."

Prof. Oberhoffer-Fritz : "At the end of the day, our interdisciplinarity has invigorated the professional societies, because these topics were not represented before. For many years, the topics of exercise and sport and their importance for heart health have had their relevance in the German and European professional society of cardiology. Looking to the future, however, there is still a very great need here, especially for children."

Back in 2007, "kidsTUMove" was founded, a model project for all children and adolescents, especially those with chronic diseases such as obesity, high blood pressure, cardiological diseases or oncological diseases. What is the significance of the project for your patients?

Prof. Oberhoffer-Fritz: "kidsTUMove is an example of how we at the university manage to transport knowledge into society. Because we can convey this knowledge to the children and adolescents as well as their families. This translation into society has always been very important to us. In the meantime, we have also linked up with the TUM Family Service with the project in order to get even more children interested in sports and exercise activities as well as healthy nutrition. Over 300 children took part in our virtual Easter camp in the spring. That impressively documents the social importance of such activities."

Thank you very much for the interview!


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