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Thanks to advances in care, children born with heart defects are living happier, healthier lives than ever before. However, having a heart defect still puts them at higher risk for developmental, behavioral and learning challenges during childhood and into adulthood.

At Atrium Health Levine Children’s, we help kids and their families face these challenges head-on. Our cardiac neurodevelopmental program provides an all-inclusive approach to care that helps children like yours reach behavioral and developmental milestones and build the futures they deserve.

Our program was established in 2017, with vital support from The HEARTest Yard and former Carolina Panthers player Greg Olsen and his wife Kara. We were the first of our kind in the region and continue to provide a level of care and expertise that’s only available here. Plus, you can feel confident knowing your child’s care is part of a nationally recognized heart program and connected to the region’s only children’s hospital recognized by U.S. News & World Report.

Patient care

If your child has a high-risk heart disease, they’re also at a higher risk for neurodevelopmental challenges. It’s important for them to get the evaluation and care they need as soon as possible. Through early intervention, we can establish a baseline, identify areas of concern and put them on track for a bright future.

Who should be evaluated

According to the American Heart Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, your child should receive a neurodevelopmental assessment if they have:

  • Open-heart surgery during the first year of life
  • A heart condition leading to decreased oxygen levels
  • Other risk factors associated with congenital heart disease

Visit our FAQs for a more complete list of who should get follow-up care.

Concerns treated

Congenital heart defects can lead to developmental, behavioral and learning challenges, including psychosocial and mood-related issues. In addition to physical, occupational, and speech therapy evaluations, we offer school support and academic readiness to help your child learn and thrive.

Some common areas of concern we address are:

  • Feeding and nutrition
  • Motor skills (fine and gross)
  • Behavior
  • Sensory processing difficulties
  • Executive functions
  • Mood (anxiety and depression)
  • Family stress
  • Sleeping
  • Language
  • Learning and academics
  • Attention
  • Memory
  • Social skills
  • Transitioning into adulthood

An All-Inclusive Approach to Care

From our highly specialized team to our whole-family support, see what makes our cardiac neurodevelopmental program unique and learn more about how we got started.

Learn More

Frequently asked questions

Our program was developed to help patients with various complex heart diagnoses, and we see children as early as birth and continue seeing them all the way into adulthood. According to both the American Heart Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, your child should receive a cardiac neurodevelopmental assessment from our team if they have any of the following:

  • Open-heart surgery during the first year of life
  • A heart condition leading to decreased oxygen levels
  • More than one of the following risk factors:
    • Prematurity (born before 37 weeks)
    • Developmental delays
    • Genetic anomalies or syndromes
    • History of mechanical support, including ECMO and VAD
    • History of CPR
    • Heart transplant
    • Prolonged hospital stay (more than 2 weeks) after heart surgery
    • Perioperative seizures
    • Neuroimaging abnormalities
    • Microcephaly

We encourage families to follow up in the first year after their child’s heart surgery. Early intervention allows us to:

  • Establish an initial baseline on your child’s developmental progress.
  • Identify areas of concern and challenges early on.
  • Make appropriate referrals based on concerns and challenges.
  • Build a relationship of trust with your family.
  • Better support you and other caregivers.
  • Track your child’s progress over time.

Just like each child’s heart defect may differ, the challenges they may face often differ as well. We’ll assess your child’s medical history and concerns and determine which specialists they should see, which may include a(n):

  • Cardiac nurse practitioner
  • Neuropsychologist
  • Speech pathologist
  • Occupational therapist
  • Physical therapist
  • Social worker
  • Nutritionist
  • Licensed counselor

We’re a one-stop shop for heart care. This means your child will get to see all their cardiac neurodevelopmental providers in one visit. Though appointment times can vary, most families can expect each visit to last about 2 to 3 hours.

We strive to provide each of our families with an all-inclusive team approach, which includes the active participation of caregivers. By working as a team, we can reduce stress, improve communication and positively impact your child’s life.

In addition to our work with your family, we work across specialties and maintain open communication at every step. We can also collaborate with school districts when applicable to communicate concerns and offer recommendations.

Yes. If your child meets the requirements for an IEP or 504 plan, they are entitled to receive accommodations, modifications, and special education in school. Though IEPs and 504 plans are driven mostly by you and your child’s school, we’re here to offer support as your child’s health care provider. This includes providing a diagnosis to prove a disability is present, as well as completing further testing as needed.

In addition, your child’s care team includes a social worker, who will connect you to resources and work with you and your child’s school to get the appropriate plan in place.

For more help, check out Educational Children’s Assistance Center (EHAC). It’s a free local program that helps parents of children with disabilities navigate the education system.

Referring providers

Thank you for considering Levine Children's for your patient. It's our honor to work with you to ensure they get the best care possible. To make a referral, please call 704-373-1813.

Our providers

Congenital heart conditions affect more than the heart. That’s why, in addition to the providers listed below, your child’s care team might also include neuropsychologists; speech, occupational and physical therapists; social workers and nutritionists – all working together to help your child succeed.