Last year, we provided funding alongside Children’s Heart Surgery Fund to support Leila Rittey’s international fellowship in Edmonton, Canada.

Leila is a Paediatric Cardiologist on the Congenital Heart Unit at Leeds Children’s Hospital; she provides support and care to young patients and their families before and after their surgery.

Recently, we caught up with Leila on her experience working as a Fetal and Neonatal Cardiology Fellow and how this will make a difference in her role at Leeds Children’s Hospital.

“I worked with the team at Stollery Children’s Hospital where I carried out the intraoperative studies on babies. I was able to further develop skills in performing transoesophageal echoes, a procedure to look at the heart chambers and valves using a flexible telescope placed down the oesophagus helping to identify congenital heart disease in patients undergoing neonatal surgery.”

“I also had the opportunity to get involved in Fetal Cardiology teaching, where I was able to develop my skills in showing fetal echo images to people who are not trained in this field and know how to explain the images we were obtaining. It was incredibly useful to see how things are done differently in another centre and see what best practice I could bring back to Leeds.”

Leila Rittey holding dinosaur bones in Canada

Read More: Local charities fund Fellowship to support children with congenital heart defects

“During the week, I took part in fetal cardiology clinics, where the team saw a wide variety of mums to be. The big difference is that the fetal echo is routinely offered from 10 weeks of gestation in Canada, 8 weeks earlier than is normally seen in most centres. This allowed me to develop skills in imaging at earlier gestation and knowing how scanning in the 1st trimester is different than scanning in the second or third trimester. In addition to the early scanning the team in Edmonton carry out detailed assessment of diastolic function on every fetus which is not routinely carried out in the UK, this allows earlier potential identification of disease.”

“We would also meet with parents at around 34-week gestation via Zoom with the Fetal medicine, Fetal Cardiology and Neonatology Consultants and fellows from each speciality. This gave us the opportunity to update families on their baby’s health and explain a little more about what would happen after birth, helping them prepare for a time that would undoubtably be very difficult for them. The parents found this really very useful and really appreciated having everyone together in the same meeting so there would be someone present who could answer any questions that they had. This is something that I would like to try and take forward in Leeds for our more complex patients.”

“During the fellowship, I was involved in two large research projects. The first was looking into the accuracy of early fetal echo, both in identifying any heart problems and confirming that the heart is normal. This project found that early fetal echo was highly accurate in skilled hands and has been presented internationally at the American Society of Echocardiography annual meeting. My second research project was in the assessment of atrial function in fetuses and comparing if there is any significant difference between different pathology groups. This is a very novel area of work and was a pilot project which has shown some differences in a small sample. This has been accepted for presentation at the World Congress in Paediatric Cardiology meeting in Washington DC at the end of August.”

“Finally, I was able to attend the Phoenix Fetal Cardiology International Meeting. This was the first time I had ever attended a meeting dedicated to fetal cardiology of this magnitude. It was invaluable to be able to meet the leaders of the Fetal Cardiology field internationally and listen to the current advances happening in the field. The funding provided by both charities ensured that I was able to afford to attend this meeting and I am very grateful.”

“I am now back working in Leeds and this extensive training has allowed me to be able to cover compassionate leave taken by one of the Fetal Cardiology Consultants to ensure that the Fetal Cardiology clinics aren’t reduced and patients waiting for longer than they should to be seen. I am also able to teach the sonographers and other consultants what I have learnt whilst away to enable that the whole Fetal Cardiology Department are benefitting from the world class training that this funding allowed me to obtain.”

Leila in front of trees, a lake and mountains in Canada