A Day for the Broken Hearted

As Valentine’s Day draws nearer, the focus will be on hearts. Candy hearts, chocolate hearts, paper hearts, heart stickers – anything that you can make a heart out of.  Over the next week or so,  hearts will be everywhere, representing lovers across the globe. From the couples celebrating their golden anniversaries, to elementary school sweethearts.

On February 14th, cards will be given, gifts opened, flowers delivered and marriage proposed – hearts will be overflowing.  But what about the millions of broken hearted? What will that day mean for them? Simple – everything.

For every 1 out of 100 people, February 14th will not be represented by candy, chocolate or pretty red paper hearts, instead it will be represented by the images of broken hearts. For February 14th, is Congenital Heart Defects Awareness Day.

Instead of a day just for Hallmark cards and affection, the day is, more importantly I might add, a day to raise awareness for the 1,000,000 babies that will be born this year with a broken heart. A day to honor the millions who are currently suffering from congenital heart disease, for those who have fought and won, and those who have died – which 10% of all babies born with Congenital Heart Defects will die before they reach their first birthday.

February 14th is a day to extend strength and support to the broken-hearted parents who are told their child has a heart defect, that their newborn is in heart failure, that their tiny baby requires surgery and heart medications, and more words that should never be used in conjunction with a child. It is a day to offer compassion to parents sitting next to an ICU bed, while their tiny baby lays there on a ventilator with their chest left open after open heart surgery. It is a day to offer a shoulder to cry on to the parents who have had to bury their children – lost to the most common birth defect there is.

So this Valentine’s Day, when you’re opening your cards, eating your chocolates, and smelling the roses your husband gave you, please, take a moment and think of us – the Broken Hearted. Think of a way you can help us – be it educating yourself on CHD, perhaps sharing this post, or better yet – lobbying your provincial/state government to make the Pulse Oximetry test part of standard newborn screening.

The Pulse Oximetry test, commonly known as the Pulse-Ox, measures the oxygen saturation of a patient’s blood. Since approximately 50% of heart defects cause abnormal blood oxygen saturation levels, this test can be very useful in the early detection of undiagnosed heart defects. The test is quick, easy and painless. In fact, we all have it done anytime we go to the ER: that little clip they stick on your finger. That quick little test could save the lives of thousands of children every year.

This leads me to wonder why the Pulse-Ox has not been made part of the standard newborn screening. Standard newborn screening tests currently include blood work that tests for several different diseases/defects that range in incidence rates of 1 in 2000 to 1 in 12000, and yet, no test is currently being done for the birth defect that affects 1 in 100 babies (and this is actually estimated to be 1 in 85 in Canada), and is the leading cause of death in children under the age of one.

It would appear that it is up to us to ensure that this test becomes standard, it is up to us, to save lives. How can you help? By educating yourself and others on Congenital Heart Disease. Share this blog, share the information you’ve learned with pregnant co-workers or friends – just because the Pulse-Ox test isn’t part of routine testing, doesn’t mean that you can’t request for your newborn have it done before leaving the hospital.

This Valentine’s Day, help save a heart.

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Ashley, at 2 months old, admitted to the hospital for failure to thrive, a common side effect of congestive heart failure.

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Ashley today, at 3 1/2 years old – beautiful, healthy and thriving

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