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Olivia overcomes heart problems caused by chemotherapy

21 April 2022
Oncological patient with a nurse in the SJD Barcelona Children's Hospital

As a result of her leukaemia treatment, she developed ventricular dysfunction, which was detected and treated early and reversed.

The treatments currently available to combat childhood cancer mean that 80% of children are able to overcome the disease, but they are not without toxicity and cause side effects of varying degrees of severity. Olivia and her family know this only too well.

This little six-year-old girl was diagnosed with leukemia in November 2020. The doctors prescribed her a very strong chemotherapy treatment because her leukemia was very aggressive and had a high risk of relapse.

Shortly after starting her second cycle of chemotherapy, Olivia developed severe respiratory failure and required ventilatory support.

The medical team treating Olivia and the team from the Cardio-Oncology Unit, who had assessed her at her diagnosis and had been monitoring her since then, determined that the respiratory failure was due to diastolic dysfunction in the heart caused by poor tolerance to the chemotherapy.

Olivia's ventricular dysfunction meant that her heart was not able to pump the blood properly and this resulted in fluid retention in her lungs, causing respiratory failure.

The medical team altered Olivia's chemotherapy and gave her medical treatment at the same time to resolve the dysfunction. “If we hadn't treated her, she would have ended up with heart failure. However, if the dysfunction is detected in time and treated, it is reversible”, explains the unit's cardiologist, Esther Aurensanz.

This is what happened to Olivia. Her heart has now recovered and is healthy once again, despite the side effects of the chemotherapy, which she has been able to continue.

Children with cancer are five times more likely than the rest of the population to develop a cardiovascular disease as a result of the cancer treatments.