Each year more than 500 Danish children are born with a heart disease, i.e. almost 1 in 100 newborns. This makes heart disease the most common congenital disease in Denmark. Previously many of these children would die at an early age, but today the majority of children with a congenital heart disease live well into adulthood, and many of them can live a perfectly normal life, thanks to new diagnostic methods and treatments.
"We've become better at diagnosing and treating these children early with new, gentle methods and surgical techniques. This means that today more than 25,000 people in Denmark have survived to adulthood with a congenital heart disease. This is quite an interesting patient group, and in many areas it is unknown territory for us because previously children suffering from a congenital heart disease did not live long enough to become adults," said Professor Søndergaard, who has taken up his professorship at the University of Copenhagen and Rigshospitalet.
Professor Søndergaard has a long research career behind him, also within structural heart disease. Since his employment at Rigshospitalet back in 1993, and especially within the past 10-15 years, he has helped bring Rigshospitalet to the leading edge within new gentle surgical techniques such as MitraClip and Transcatheter Aortic Valve Implantation (TAVI) to treat heart valves through keyhole surgery. His interest in grown up congenital heart disease (GUCH) arose under a residency in London, where he worked as a cardiologist for three years. Experience from abroad is important for the further research, and Professor Søndergaard continued:
"We can learn a lot from our colleagues abroad, for example in England, where surgeons began using new methods to treat children suffering from heart diseases ten years before Danish surgeons. I'm therefore very pleased that, with this professorship, the University of Copenhagen and Rigshospitalet have chosen to focus on research in congenital heart disease. This commitment and special priority of this area will improve clinical research and opportunities to introduce new clinical practices – not only at Rigshospitalet, but also across heart centres in Denmark and abroad. Clearly we’ll have to collaborate across research projects to ensure an adequate patient volume.”
Professor Søndergaard gave his inaugural lecture at Rigshospitalet on Friday 22 January 2016. The professorship is in the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences at the University of Copenhagen and incorporates an affiliated position as a consultant at the Department of Cardiology at Rigshospitalet.