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Penn doctors are treating broken hearts in a new home.

To that end, the University of Pennsylvania Health System and the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia have launched the Adult Congenital Heart Center -- designed to treat the genetic heart problems of the Philadelphia region.

Penn cardiologist Gary Webb will direct the center -- which has been running since mid-summer. Originally from Toronto, Webb was brought to Penn about a year ago to head the facility's development.

He, along with the center's staff and several of its patients, gathered at the Penn Tower yesterday to officially celebrate the center's opening.

The joint venture between the medical centers aims to establish the first regional center in Philadelphia. It will serve to address the current and long-term problems in the diagnosis and treatment of patients living with heart defects, Webb said. He expects it to become the model for other regional centers in the United States.

Congenital heart defects are structural abnormalities in the heart that are present at birth. About 1 million adults in the country suffer from such conditions.

Although the number of people with congenital heart defects has remained essentially unchanged, Adult Congenital Heart Association President Amy Verstappen said, the incidence of adults with congenital heart disease is growing by 5 percent a year.

"All these children who did not previously live now live to adulthood," Verstappen said.

Verstappen emphasized the need for many more heart centers to address congenital heart conditions and for more patients and doctors to be aware of the symptoms.

Dan Smith, 40, was born with blue lips and blue fingernails, as oxygen was not properly circulating through his body.

His parents were told by the doctor to "go home and make funeral arrangements," Smith said.

"We don't know how long he is going to live," the doctor had said.

But Smith's parents did not give up hope. After an exhaustive search, they were able to find a surgeon to address his condition.

Jim Hendrix, 55, was born with a condition known as tetralogy of Fallot. He faced not just one structural defect, but four.

Early in their respective diseases, each of these patients lacked a facility that could provide continuity of care from childhood to adulthood in one concerted and expert effort.

The center hopes to combat this by combining the expertise of CHOP with that of the UPHS.

"It is a terrific opportunity," Webb said. "Neither hospital on its own has everything that is needed, but together they are terrific."

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