Friday, February 9, 2007

Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Week

Gov. Kaine declares Feb. 7-14 Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Week
RICHMOND, VA – February 6, 2007 –

More than 32,000 infants (one out of every 125 to 150) are born with one of more than thirty-five identified forms of congenital heart defects each year in the United States. Heart defects are among Virginia’s most common birth defects, and are the leading cause of birth defect-related deaths. Many affected families experience substantial medical debt to save their children. Virginia does not offer any financial aid programs at this time. Today, most heart defects can be corrected, or at least helped, by surgery, medicine or devices such as artificial valves and pacemakers. In the last 40 years, advances in diagnosis and surgical treatment of heart defects have enabled nearly 1 million U.S. children with significant heart defects to survive into adulthood. The defect may be so slight that the baby appears healthy for many years after birth, or so severe that its life is in immediate danger. It is important for new parents to recognize these signs and consult their doctor:

o Certain heart defects prevent the heart from pumping adequate blood to the lungs or other parts of the body. This can cause congestive heart failure. An affected child may experience a rapid heartbeat and breathing difficulties, especially during exercise (or in infants, during feeding—sometimes resulting in inadequate weight gain). Swelling of the legs or abdomen or around the eyes also may occur.

o Some heart defects result in a pale grayish or bluish coloring of the skin (called cyanosis), usually appearing soon after birth or during infancy. On occasion, it may be delayed until later in childhood. It is a sign of defects that prevent the blood from getting enough oxygen. Children with cyanosis may tire easily. Symptoms such as shortness of breath and fainting often worsen when the child exerts himself. Some youngsters may squat frequently to ease their shortness of breath.

Heart defects originate in the early part of pregnancy when the heart is forming. Congenital heart defects can affect any of the different parts or functions of the heart. In most cases, scientists do not know what makes a baby's heart develop abnormally. Both genetic and environmental factors appear to play roles.

For more information on congenital heart defects visit www.americanheart.org. Families from the Mended Little Hearts Richmond chapter (www.mlhrichmond.org) and individual families from South Hampton Roads and the Peninsula are available for interviews by calling Michelle Nostheide at 804-965-6512.

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