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  • Jeanna Vazquez

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  • Jeanna Vazquez

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Dr. Laith Alshawabkeh with patient MacKinzie Peregoy

MacKinzie Peregoy has lived with a congenital heart defect her entire life. Through a collaboration with Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego, she now receives her cardiac care at UC San Diego Health as part of the Adult Congenital Heart Disease program, led by Dr. Laith Alshawabkeh, cardiologist and founding director (right).

Adult Congenital Heart Disease Care Now Accredited at UC San Diego Health

In recognition of its multidisciplinary approach to treating adults with congenital heart disease, the Adult Congenital Heart Disease program at UC San Diego Health has received accreditation from the Adult Congenital Heart Association (ACHA) as a comprehensive care center, a first for San Diego.

For MacKinzie Peregoy, this means her life-saving heart care will be extended through a program unique to San Diego, at the only Adult Congenital Heart Program in the region.

MacKinzie was only two months old when she underwent open-heart surgery for the first time. A procedure she’d experience again at two years old and once more at 22 years old. She was born with a congenital heart defect, which affects one in every 100 babies born in the United States.

“I was born blue,” said MacKinzie. “I was rushed to the NICU immediately after being born as doctors were explaining to my parents what happened.”

As the name implies, congenital heart disease is present at birth, caused by a malformation of the baby’s heart while still in utero. Defects can involve the valves within the heart, the interior walls of the organ or the veins and arteries associated with the heart. The majority of babies born with congenital heart disease require multiple operations during childhood to ensure survival and the chance to reach adulthood.

However, her defective heart did not slow down MacKinzie; her parents tried to provide her with as close-to-normal of a childhood as possible.

“My parents made sure I wasn’t treated any differently,” said MacKinzie. “I still did any activity I wanted to, just whenever I got tired, we’d take breaks. In all circumstances, I had a normal childhood, but I learned to be aware of my limits and listen to my body.”

One activity in particular, golfing, became a passion.

“I was really good at golf,” said MacKinzie. “It was a sport I could do easily, even with my heart defect. Which was great for me and my mental health; I could still play a sport and have fun as a kid.”

Due to lack of adult specialty care, it’s common for patients with congenital heart defects to remain with their pediatric cardiologist for the entirety of their lives. In fact, that was the case in San Diego until UC San Diego Health physicians launched the Adult Congenital Heart Disease program to care for qualifying adult congenital heart patients in the region, in partnership with Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego.

MacKinzie Peregoy hiking.

MacKinzie (left) encourages anyone living with a chronic illness to take things day by day, and accept there will be good days and bad days. A native San Diegan, she loves to go hiking with her husband, Michael, and their dog, Flash.

“Our program was built around patient-centered care. We always put the patient first,” said Dr. Laith Alshawabkeh, a cardiologist and founding director of the Adult Congenital Heart Disease Program at the Cardiovascular Institute at UC San Diego Health. “Through our joint partnership with Rady Children’s Hospital, our program guarantees appropriate, lifelong congenital heart care for San Diegans.”

As a native San Diegan, MacKinzie has received treatment at Rady Children’s from birth.  Now 29 years old, she recently transferred to the adult program at UC San Diego Health.

“While it was difficult to change from something I’ve known my whole life, the transition has been incredible,” said MacKinzie. “I will always be bonded with my pediatric cardiology team, but it’s been refreshing to be seen by a cardiologist who solely treats adults. I’m finally being seen as an adult.”

Patients with congenital heart disease require specialized adult cardiac care to address complex health needs throughout their lives. The Adult Congenital Heart Disease program is the only one of its kind south of Los Angeles. It features a multidisciplinary team of cardiologists, surgeons, congenital interventional cardiologists, imaging specialists, anesthesiologists, nurses, and social workers. The team also collaborates with cardiologists across the county.

UC San Diego Health received accreditation by meeting ACHA’s criteria, including medical services and personnel requirements, and going through a rigorous review developed over several years through a collaboration with doctors, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, nurses and patients.

“What this accreditation means is that any adult born with a congenital heart disease can be guaranteed lifelong treatment from a multidisciplinary team of experts at our Cardiovascular Institute,” said Alshawabkeh. “We are a model program, the first and the only one in San Diego. I’m incredibly proud of our team for making heart care a priority for the region.”

For MacKinzie, this accreditation means she can continue to live her life as she wants while also dealing with a heart defect.

“In all diseases, not just heart disease, any illness is a struggle and can seem so unfair at times, but I try to take things day by day,” said MacKinzie. “It’s so important to accept that there will be bad days, and there will be good days. It’s all about what you make of your life and the atmosphere you create.” 

Currently, MacKinzie lives in San Diego with her husband and their two cats and dog. She still golfs from time to time, and loves to hike, camp and spend time with her mom and younger sister.

For the 2021-2022 U.S. News & World Report, UC San Diego Health ranked 23rd for Cardiology and Heart Surgery in the nation’s top 50 programs, out of more than 4,750 hospitals nationwide. The Cardiovascular Institute at UC San Diego Health offers comprehensive care for advanced heart failure, heart and lung transplantation, complex coronary interventions, heart rhythm disorders, robotic and minimally invasive cardiac surgery, structural and adult congenital heart disease, percutaneous and surgical treatment of thromboembolic pulmonary vascular disease and intensive cardiac rehabilitation.

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