Ashley Ruhlig poses for a photo with her husband and newborn baby.There’s good news, bad news and best news about being born with heart problems, or congenital heart defects, according to the Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital Congenital Heart Center.

The good news:

Thanks to modern medicine, more babies with congenital heart defects are surviving. There are about 1.5 million adults living with a congenital heart defect, while only 800,000 children have heart problems.

The bad news:

Even if your issue was fixed when you were a child, you are likely to have problems in the future.

Just ask Ashley Ruhlig, a 28-year-old Ludington, Michigan, woman who was treated for tricuspid atresia as an infant. When Ruhlig had a baby recently, she made it through labor and delivery without a hitch.

A couple of weeks later, however, she developed a pulmonary embolism and was rushed by helicopter to Meijer Heart Center, where an emergency surgery performed by the congenital heart team saved her life.

The best news:

You can benefit by working with a doctor who specializes in adults who were born with heart defects. A study of 70,000 adults with congenital heart defects showed that patients who received care from an adult congenital heart disease specialist were most likely to live longer and fuller lives.

That expert adult congenital heart care is available at the Congenital Heart Center. The center was created about two years ago under the leadership of cardiovascular surgeon Marcus Haw, FRCS, and interventional cardiologist Joseph Vettukattil, MD, and is designed to offer a seamless transition of care as patients mature into adulthood.

As the Congenital Heart Center has grown, so has the need for additional support to work with adults. This led to adding a dedicated adult congenital heart specialist to the team: Mehul Patel, MD, CCDS.

Dr. Patel recently joined the Congenital Heart Center at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital to focus on teens and adults with congenital heart defects. He spent more than 12 years training for this work, most recently at Texas Children’s Hospital, one of the top pediatric hospitals in the country.

In most cases, his patients were diagnosed with heart problems when they were children. In many cases, the problem was repaired years ago. In every case, there are complexities.

“We are learning more about adults with congenital heart defects all the time,” Dr. Patel said. “Even if they had surgery and have been told their problem was fixed, they should continue to follow up forever. What was a mild issue early in life could cause major problems in the future.”

To make matters more serious, many patients also acquire heart disease as adults.

“Heart disease and its treatment are different if it is combined with a heart defect,” Dr. Patel added. “I tell my patients they are shaping their future by what they do now to avoid acquiring heart disease.”

To view more patient stories on heart and vascular care, click here.