Meadow Pontius

During a routine wellness examination, Deborah Lonzer, MD, Chair of the Department of Community Pediatrics for Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital, detected a murmur while listening to Meadow Pontius’ heart. That catch by Dr. Lonzer’s trained ear led to the diagnosis of a congenital cardiac anomaly and potentially lifesaving open-heart surgery.

And to think, says Lynn Pontius, she almost didn’t take Meadow to Dr. Lonzer. The Pontius family relies on a general practitioner near their Ashtabula, Ohio, home for medicalcare. But at the insistence of a friend, Mrs. Pontius made an appointment for her daughter with Dr. Lonzer at the Willoughby Hills Family Health Center before Meadow started kindergarten last fall. It was a 45-minute drive to the appointment — a trip Mrs. Pontius is forever grateful she made.

“I was impressed right off the bat because Dr. Lonzer talked directly to Meadow and was very thorough,” says Mrs. Pontius. Dr. Lonzer asked about Meadow’s family and social history before moving on to the physical exam. Halfway through, she listened to Meadow’s heart and heard the murmur. “There are lots of murmurs that kids have that are normal,” says Dr. Lonzer. “I knew this one was not normal, and I wanted Meadow to see a cardiologist.”

Pediatric cardiologist Kenneth Zahka, MD, conducted an echocardiogram and diagnosed Meadow’s sinus venosus atrial septal defect. The 5-year-old had a hole in the membrane between her atria — the chambers that receive blood back into the heart. In addition, the pulmonary veins that return oxygen to her heart were in the wrong place. The condition placed an extra load on Meadow’s heart, which could eventually cause heart rhythm and function problems.

Dr. Zahka recommended surgery. On Aug. 15, 2011, a surgical team at Cleveland Clinic Pediatric Institute & Children’s Hospital repaired Meadow’s heart. “Three weeks after the initial exam by Dr. Lonzer, the Cleveland Clinic team had worked their magic!” says Mrs. Pontius. “We now have a child with a normal heart, and Meadow can expect a long and healthy life.”

Helping patients like Meadow is the most rewarding part of Dr. Lonzer’s 19-year career as a pediatrician. “The connections I make with patients are special,” she says. “I don’t feel like someone’s doctor; I feel like an ancillary family member.”

Mrs. Pontius would agree. She heaps praise on everyone at Children’s Hospital, from doctors to nursing assistants to Child Life specialists. “When it comes to care,” says Mrs. Pontius, “Cleveland Clinic is absolutely unsurpassed.”