Doctor's Heart is in Fitchburg
By Bridget Botelho
bbotelho@sentinelandenterprise.com

FITCHBURG -- Up until last Thursday, parents of children with heart disorders in the area had to drive the 30 miles to UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester to see a specialist.

Dr. Lars Erickson said he didn't think it was fair to his patients, so once a week, the pediatric cardiologist and his staff are coming to them. 

"We needed to spend time here because there is an enormous number of children in this area in need of cardiac care," Dr. Erickson said.

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Sitting in his new office on 881 South St. for the first time on May 8, the smell of fresh paint still lingering in the air, Dr. Erickson already had a room full of young patients waiting to see him.

"We wanted to expand our services and make it easier for our patients," Nurse Practitioner Nancy Hagberg said.

Hagberg said though children aren't normally categorized as a group prone to heart abnormalities, many children are born with heart defects ranging from the most frequently occurring ventricular septal defect (VSD) -- a hole between the two pumping chambers of the heart -- to other problems like missing ventricles.

Dr. Erickson said during his years as a pediatric cardiologist, he has seen many miracles in babies with heart defects. He said although children with heart defects may face years of follow-up care, they are fortunate to be born into a world of advanced technology, sparing many of them from major surgeries that would have been inevitable a decade ago.

"This is such a fascinating field because so much can be done. Nowadays, heart patients can almost universally be saved," Erickson said. 

Dr. Erickson earned his degree at Duke University Medical School and did his fellowship at Boston's Children Hospital -- which he said was one of the most interesting times in his career.

These days, Dr. Erickson spends his days diagnosing patients and doing follow-up care at UMass Memorial in Worcester, The Wellness Center of Framingham and Cape Cod Hospital, and now his office in Fitchburg.

Pediatrician Dr. John McLaughlin, who now shares an office building with Dr. Erickson, said the original pediatric cardiology center in Fitchburg was an outreach of Boston Children's Hospital that closed four years ago because there wasn't enough staff.

Since then, as an advisory committee member at UMass Memorial, McLaughlin tried getting someone back in the area to make life more convenient for his patients.

His lobbying efforts paid off in December, 2002 when UMass Memorial agreed to send Dr. Erickson this way. 

"We've had trouble getting our patients to Worcester," McLaughlin said. "We are very excited to have a specialist here. It is much more convenient for our patients."

McLaughlin, who has practiced in Fitchburg since 1986, said he is in the process of recruiting other pediatric specialists as well, hoping to get doctors of various expertise close by to fill the needs of the 25 to 30 patients he sees every day.

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