By Claire Ellinghouse
I am the parent of a now 3-year-old son who is such an inspiration to many. Gabriel has complex congenital heart defects (Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome) and has undergone several open-heart and closed-heart surgeries and many catherizations. Someday he may need more.
I now see how common this birth defect is, and I know there is a need for more public awareness. According to the American Heart Association, one out of every 100 babies is born with a congenital heart defect. Some of the defects are not life-threatening and require little or no intervention. But some, like Gabriel's, are life-threatening and need immediate attention.
Luckily, we found out before birth and were able to make informed decisions about Gabriel's care. Unfortunately, this is not the case for all babies. For this reason it is very important that the public and health professionals be aware of the prevalence of these defects and the advancements in the treatments for them.
At first we were only offered compassionate care for him, to take him home and let him die. But with a little research we were able to find knowledgeable doctors who were able to treat him. Now he is a fully functioning toddler, playing music, swimming and filling hearts around him with love and laughter. It is for reasons like this that we must bring awareness.
Congenital heart defects are the most frequently occurring birth defects and are the leading cause of birth-defect related deaths. Some are simple and require little or no treatment. Others, like Gabriel's are complex and require many surgeries and then are never really cured.
For the past three years, families of children with congenital and acquired heart disease, adults with congenital heart defects and the professionals who work with them have joined forces to have Feb. 14 proclaimed in all 50 states as "A Day For Hearts: Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Day." Forty-six states, including Missouri, issued proclamations last year.
This same group of people and many others who have since united in this cause are once again trying to meet their goal of all 50 states issuing proclamations this year. The same group of families and medical professionals are also requesting proclamations from their governors and mayors. As a resident of this great state of Missouri, I am requesting that you help us by spreading the news of this proclamation declaring this special day in February.
I am extremely proud that Gov. Bob Holden was one of the first to agree to participate in once again making Feb. 14 a special day to recognize those people born with heart defects. He has officially signed the proclamation. We are hoping that President Bush will also support us this year as he did while he was governor of Texas.
Claire Ellinghouse is a Cape Girardeau resident.