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Release: Feb. 3, 2000

Valentine's Day declared 'Congenital Heart Defects Awareness Day'

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack has designated Feb. 14 as "A Day for Hearts: Congenital Heart Defects Awareness Day." The declaration represents the culmination of an effort by Heart Friends, an Iowa-based support group for families of children born with congenital heart defects.

Congenital heart disease (CHD) is the most common birth defect, affecting about one child out of every 100 to 125 births. About 32,000 infants with CHD are born in the United States yearly. The American Heart Association estimates that there are approximately one million Americans living with CHD today.

Debra Johnson of Iowa City, and Lisa Abbott of Urbandale, are members of Heart Friends and parents of children with CHD. They led the effort to recognize Valentine's Day as "A Day for Hearts: Congenital Heart Defects Awareness Day."

"We wanted to raise awareness that congenital heart defects are not rare," Johnson said. "Because heart defects are not outwardly apparent, children and their families living with CHD often have the sense that they are alone in their struggles when, in fact, there are many, many families facing the same challenges."

Early diagnosis and treatment is essential," Abbott added. "Delays in recognizing CHD can lead to emergency surgery and even death."

Pediatricians check for signs of CHD, such as a heart murmur, just after a baby is born. Other possible symptoms of congenital heart defects include shortness of breath, a blue tinge to the skin, lack of appetite and listlessness.

"The good news is that there is hope for these children," said Larry Mahoney, M.D., UI professor of pediatrics and director of pediatric cardiology in the Children's Hospital of Iowa. "Years ago, many kids with heart defects did not live into adulthood. Now, we can often effectively treat these children and they not only survive, but also thrive. They can go on to lead healthy, relatively normal, productive lives."

Children with congenital heart defects may require multiple surgeries. Medications may also be needed in certain cases. Children with minor defects may only require close monitoring. Specialists have also developed advanced techniques that make it possible to either perform fewer surgeries or perform less invasive procedures.

"We believe that it is important to set aside a day of remembrance and celebration of the great medical advances that help children such as ours, and to honor the children and families who fight CHD on a daily basis," Johnson said.

NOTE TO EDITORS: The following pediatric cardiologists have agreed to discuss the care of children with congenital heart disease.

Gregorio Kazenelson, M.D., Waterloo, (319) 236-1607

Eyad Najdawi, M.D., Sioux City, (712) 255-8901

Susan MacLellan-Tobert, M.D., Waterloo, (319) 292-2710

Vickie Pyevich, M.D., Quad Cities, (319) 421-8380

Mark Zittergruen, M.D., Cedar Rapids, (319) 364-7101

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