February is the month of hearts. Thanks to Valentine’s Day, it’s impossible not to associate the month with red and pink heart imagery, but February in the United States is also American Heart Month, and February 7-14 is Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Week. During the week before Valentine’s Day, Americans promote awareness and education about congenital heart defects (CHDs), which affect approximately 1% of newborns each year. CHDs are defects that affect the structure of a baby’s heart and occur during gestation. There are many different kinds of heart defects, and although some may be minor, others can be life-threatening. In honor of Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Week and the 2-3 million children and adults who live with a congenital heart defect in the United States, we chose The Children’s Heart Foundation as our February charity and the recipient of our $5,000 donation.
Founded in 1996, The Children’s Heart Foundation is the country’s leading organization solely dedicated to funding CHD research. Since its inception, the foundation has funded nearly $18 million of CHD research, which has led to major breakthroughs to improve survival rates and quality of life for those living with CHDs. Just in the past 20 years, death rates from congenital heart defects have dropped by a whopping 37.5 percent, and the foundation is now supporting research on the developmental, transitional, and lifelong care needs of the millions of Americans affected by congenital heart disease. No parent wants to receive a CHD diagnosis for their baby, but thanks to the Children’s Heart Foundation, the survival rate for these children is at an all-time high. The inspiration and driving force behind an organization giving hope to millions of parents across the country? A little boy named Sam.
In 1995, Steve and Betsy Peterson faced every parent’s worst nightmare. Their 8-year-old son, Sam, who was born with congenital heart defects, died of multiple organ failure after a sudden heart-related collapse. Had Sam been born twenty years prior, he would have likely lived no more than a day, due to his CHDs. Medical technology at the time allowed the Petersons to have 8 beautiful years with their child, but doctors were still unable to explain why Sam had been born with complex CHDs or what had caused his sudden collapse. Determined to channel their grief into something positive, the Petersons created the Children’s Heart Foundation with the mission of advancing the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of congenital heart defects by funding the most promising research. It is the foundation’s hope that congenital heart disease will someday be eradicated, and it continues its work to give everyone born with a CHD the chance to live a long and healthy life.
Although researchers aren’t sure what causes most types of congenital heart disease, some babies have heart defects because of changes in their individual genes or chromosomes. It’s thought that CHDs may be caused by a combination of genes and other factors, such as the environment and the mother’s health conditions. About 15 to 20 percent of CHDs are related to genetic conditions, and a baby’s risk of having a CHD is at least three times more likely if their parent or sibling has one. Treatment for CHDs depends on the type and severity of the defect present, but approximately 25 percent of children born with a CHD will need heart surgery or other interventions within their first year of life to survive. Although these procedures can improve the way the heart works and even repair certain heart defects, children with CHDs face a life-long risk of health problems and require follow-up care throughout life.
Because of continued research into CHDs, scientists are learning more about their causes and the role that genetics play, as well as discovering less invasive treatment options for certain types of CHDs. In the 1950s, 20% of infants with critical CHDs survived to 18 years of age, but that statistic has vastly improved. Today, 69% of babies born with a critical CHD are expected to survive to 18 years of age, and that number will likely climb with more breakthroughs. Research funded by The Children’s Heart Foundation is dramatically changing the lives of babies born with CHDs, and we’re so proud to support this cause during Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Week.