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Dr. Edward BoveDr. Bove

Think of a walnut in its shell. Now imagine a heart the same size.

Now, imagine fixing a problem inside that heart. And saving the life of the child to whom it belongs.

Almost every day for 20 years, Dr. Edward Bove has led a University of Michigan team that does just that. A true pioneer of children’s cardiac surgery, he repairs, reconstructs and rebuilds tiny hearts using delicate instruments held firmly in his large, reassuring hands.

He’s a linchpin of the Congenital Heart Center, one of the world’s top centers for children’s heart care. Families come from all over Michigan, and around the nation and the world, to have their children’s heart defects diagnosed and treated at U-M - many of them by Dr. Bove.

All of them come here looking for a miracle. If their babies had been born twenty or even ten years ago, they would have died within days. Even today, some of the families have been told by other doctors that nothing can be done for their child.

But through the work of Dr. Bove and his team, there’s real hope that even a baby born with a serious heart defect can go on to have a healthy life.

Dr. Bove’s kind face and quietly confident manner have calmed many a frightened parent, anxious to know what can be done to save their baby’s life. In these days of sophisticated pre-birth diagnosis, some of those parents learn of their baby’s condition while they’re still parents-to-be.

The U-M’s comprehensive program helps these families from diagnosis (at birth or before) through testing, surgery, post-surgical care and long-term follow-up. Dr. Bove may be the face of the program, but he can’t do it alone: Cardiologists, nurses, anesthesiologists, technicians, respiratory therapists, dietitians, exercise specialists and social workers work together to help every young heart patient have the best chance.

Born with “half a heart”

But there are some things only a surgeon can do. Dr. Bove’s surgical skill has especially made a difference for children with a condition called hypoplastic left heart syndrome (HLHS), in which the left side of the heart fails to develop properly in the womb and can’t pump blood to the body. Parents of these children often say they were born with “half a heart.”

When Dr. Bove was training to become a surgeon, HLHS killed every baby born with it. But through his persistence in perfecting the three operations these patients need, and with the dedication of the U-M’s skilled team, HLHS patients now have very good odds. More than 85 percent of HLHS babies treated at U-M now survive the first operation. Those who go on to the second and third operations have an even higher chance of living.

The series of operations is far from simple, and carries great risks. But it has helped hundreds of children live. Hundreds more, with other heart defects, are also alive because of his skill and the entire team’s dedication.

Grateful parents have called Dr. Bove “humble and compassionate,” “caring and personable,” even “a gift from God” and a “miracle worker.” And while he appreciates the compliments, it’s the lives saved that are his biggest reward.

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