Research shows that vitamin D levels drop after pediatric heart surgery, increasing sickness

Posted on Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Until now, no research has been conducted on the importance of vitamin D supplementation in children with congenital heart disease (CHD). However, over the past few years, researchers at the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) Research Institute and Cardiovascular Surgery Program have teamed with the Canadian Critical Care Trials Group to understand the impact of cardiac surgery on vitamin D levels in infants and children. The full article is available ahead of the July print publication on the Anesthesiology website.

“The importance of vitamin D levels and supplementation in healthy infants and children is well established,” says Dr. Dayre McNally, a clinical researcher and intensive care specialist at CHEO who is also an assistant professor at the Department of Pediatrics, University of Ottawa. “We now have more compelling evidence that children with congenital heart disease require even higher levels of vitamin D intake in the months preceding surgery.”

This evidence comes from a study that looked at 58 children who had cardiac surgery at CHEO. Blood was collected at the time of their admission to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit immediately following surgery, and these samples revealed that almost all the children had low vitamin D levels. Thanks to additional tests, the researchers were able to determine why. “Our results show that almost all children are vitamin D deficient post-operatively as a result of borderline acceptable levels prior to surgery, combined with a 40% decline during the operation.”

The public is quite aware of the role that vitamin D plays in the growth, health and maintenance of bones. However, recent studies also suggest that vitamin D is important in the proper functioning of our immune systems and of organs such as the heart and lungs. Dr. McNally's study confirms this: patients with lower post-operative vitamin D levels were more likely to require more life-sustaining therapies (medications to support heart function, longer duration of assisted breathing) and their stay in the intensive care unit was longer.

Although Dr. McNally and his fellow researchers are concerned by these high rates of post-operative vitamin D deficiency, they also see a silver lining. “The children and families who generously participated in this research have provided us with important information that may help the next generation of children to maintain better health and recover quicker following cardiac surgery,” explained Dr. McNally.  The CHEO Research Institute and Canadian Critical Care Trials Group have wasted little time and have already designed an innovative study that aims to identify a new approach to vitamin D supplementation in children with CHD.

The current study was conducted by Dr. Dayre McNally, Dr. Kusum Menon, Dr. Pranesh Chakraborty, Lawrence Fisher, Kathryn Williams, Dr. Osama Al-Dirbashi, Tara Girolamo, Dr. Gyaandeo Maharajh, and Dr. Dermot Doherty. It also received grants from the CHEO Research Institute and Department of Anesthesiology at the University of Ottawa. The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada recently awarded Dr. McNally and the research team a grant to fund research on vitamin D supplementation in children with CHD.


Kina Leclair
Media Relations Officer
University of Ottawa
Office: 613-562-5800 (2529)
Cell: 613-762-2908

Adrienne Vienneau
CHEO Research Institute
Direct: 613-737-7600 (4144)
Cell: 613-513-8437

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