Karen Letourneau, a sonographer at St. Boniface Hospital in Winnipeg, Man., felt increasingly nervous while looking at fetal hearts. Having spent 20 years in radiology and with a new degree in ultrasound technology, Letourneau had plenty of experience. But she still wasn’t confident that she could always see potential heart abnormalities. Meanwhile, four to six babies were dying every year in Manitoba because their heart problems weren’t being detected prenatally and parents, doctors, and hospitals were unprepared. By the time they were detected, it was usually too late.
Letourneau spoke with other sonographers, learning that many shared her concerns regarding heart scans. She’d read about the outflow-tract view, a non-mandatory angle in ultrasounds that makes abnormalities more visible when used with the standard four-chamber view; but no one had taught her how to do it. Letourneau sent a survey to all Manitoba sonographers, discovering that only half of given ultrasounds included complete heart scans. It became obvious that more training was needed and wanted.
Instead of asking for more advanced technology, Letourneau led two training sessions to help sonographers improve basic heart screenings. Since the beginning of Letourneau’s research, not one baby has died in Manitoba from a heart abnormality.