Fontan Program

Children’s Hospital Los Angeles helps children with severe heart abnormalities, such as single ventricle defects, live life to the fullest. These defects occur when the heart has one pumping chamber (ventricle) instead of two.

Treatment starts with lifesaving heart surgeries, including the Fontan procedure. We are one of the few programs on the West Coast providing long-term follow-up care through our Fontan Program. A highly skilled team works together to prevent and treat any long-term complications that may occur.

How Can the Fontan Program Help My Child?

The Fontan procedure is the final heart surgery in a series of two or three performed in the early years of your child’s life. This series of surgeries, called single ventricle palliation, enhance the heart’s pumping capabilities. Single ventricle palliation enables a single-ventricle heart to pump oxygen-rich blood out to the body, significantly improving quality of life.

Children undergoing the Fontan procedure face a lifetime risk of complications. Many experience mental and emotional health issues and learning challenges. Early detection and treatment through specialized programs like ours may lessen the impact of these risks on your child’s daily life. A team of experts monitors your child’s health and delivers coordinated care to optimize well-being for years to come.

The Fontan Program: Why Choose Us

Children’s Hospital treats a high volume of single ventricle patients and maintains one of the largest Fontan Programs in the nation. We offer nearly every test and therapy necessary to thrive after the procedure. You won’t find this level of care anywhere else in Southern California.

Highlights of our program include:

  • Surgical expertise: A lifetime of renewed heart health starts with a successful Fontan procedure. And there’s no better place on the West Coast to have it than Children’s Hospital. We are the top pediatric heart surgery program in the region and maintain a special program for single ventricle defects.
  • Team approach: Your child benefits from experts with years of experience in Fontan procedure follow-up care. Our team includes specialists from Cardiology, Hepatology, Pulmonology, Psychology, Nutrition and Social Work. We collaborate with additional experts as needed.
  • Convenience: Our team approach makes it easier for your child to receive comprehensive evaluations. In most cases, patients are assessed by multiple specialists all in one day. We work together to provide personalized recommendations. Our dedicated nurse care manager helps coordinate follow-up and team recommendations, including additional testing if necessary.
  • Ongoing care: Our team is here for your child, even if your child feels well. Patients typically see us every year to two years starting at around age 10. Your child receives ongoing monitoring from the same trusted team until early adulthood. This continuity makes it easier to detect small changes that can impact your child’s health.
  • Coordination with cardiology: Our team coordinates with your child’s cardiologist. After each visit, we send information about your visit including any findings and additional care recommendations. Managing these small details helps providers work together making it easier for you to focus on your child.

Fontan Program Services

We anticipate your child’s needs and tailor our approach to meet them. Our services make it easier for patients to experience the joyful childhood they deserve.

When your child comes to the Fontan Program, here’s what to expect:

  • Testing: Certain tests such as blood work and imaging help us evaluate how well the heart, liver, kidneys or other organs are working. We may recommend testing before or after your child’s visit.
  • Multidisciplinary assessment: Each member of our team meets with your child to assess the health of all parts of the body. We may ask about symptoms, daily life and treatments for other medical conditions. We also perform a comprehensive physical exam.
  • Case review: Our team meets before and after your clinic visit to review your child's medical history and test results. Working as a team enables us to identify concerns that would otherwise be easy to miss. These conversations also help us plan the next steps of your child’s care.
  • Personalized recommendations: If no additional services are necessary, we see your child again in a year or two. When there are concerns, we may suggest more testing, such as imaging studies or lab work. Recommendations may also include additional care from other specialists at CHLA.
  • Coordination with your child’s cardiologist: Our Fontan Program does not replace the ongoing heart services your child receives from a primary cardiologist. Our team shares assessment findings and recommendations with them so that you don’t have to worry about the details of your child’s care.
  • Preparing for the transition to adult care: Starting in adolescence, we help teenagers take more responsibility for their care. This includes explaining Fontan procedure complications and why ongoing monitoring is essential. Additional support is available through the Center for Healthy Adolescent Transition.

Fontan Complications We Detect and Treat

We perform ongoing monitoring and treatments for complications that may include:

  • Arrhythmias
  • Blood clots
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Kidney and liver problems
  • Learning challenges
  • Plastic bronchitis, a lung issue that causes buildups of a soft rubbery substance in the airways
  • Protein losing enteropathy, a digestive tract issue that causes swelling in the body