The Heart Of The Matter

By: Catrina Leone


It is national heart defects awareness week! This extends to the 14th, which also happens to be Valentine’s day as well. February is the month for love of course and to show support for heart disease! This story on heart defects hits home for me because I also have a heart defect of my own. Before I jump into my story, I will give you all some facts on heart defects! Here in Cleveland, a proclamation was given to two women working to raise awareness for this cause. The proclimation came this year from Mayor Jackson as well as the State of Ohio and Council. Margaret Andorf is the leader in the Mended Little Hearts Foundation. Joined by Councilman Joe Cimperman, along with Councilwoman Phyllis Cleveland and Mamie Mitchell, Margaret Andorf and Kristen Becker got the chance to spread the word for many people dealing with this.

Up to 1.3 million Americans alive today have some form of congenital heart defect. In the United States, about 36,000 children are born with a heart defect each year.  At least nine of every 1,000 infants born each year have a heart defect.

The word “congenital” means existing at birth. The terms “congenital heart defect” and “congenital heart disease” are often used to mean the same thing, but “defect” is more accurate. The heart ailment is a defect or abnormality, not a disease. A defect results when the heart or blood vessels near the heart don’t develop normally before birth. Approximately 60% of heart defects go undiagnosed, since it is such a hard thing to determine since the causes are  not as highly known. Raising awareness for those families dealing with this issue, as well as offering them hope can help change someone’s life. Having a heart defect is a risk and it is scary but there’s always light at the end of every tunnel. I know if it wasn’t for my amazing heart doctor or my wonderful family, it would have been a difficult journey for me too. Here’s my story:

My mom knew right from the get go, that I would be a spitfire. I did flip myself from feet first to head first after all. My mom’s water originally broke on Christmas Eve 1992 (almost three months before my due date: March 10th) It was a very scary time for her and my dad, as she had to stay in the hospital up until my actual birthday (January 12, 1993)My mom has told me that prayer was one of the few things that got her through it, which she ultimately passed down to me. Prayer really does move mountains.

I spent almost 2 months in the hospital before I was able to join my brother and sister at home. Mine was one that was caught early, whether I was premature or not, I would still have a VSD (Ventricular Septal Defect) which is actually a hole in my heart. I will give information on VSD’s shortly here, which is among one of the most common CHD’s. It did bring on some humor throughout my life though, as kids in elementary school would say “maybe you need a boy to fill the hole in your heart.”  Although love did make the hole feel less real, it was still there. Growing up, I did feel like it set me apart from other people, it made me, me. There were times when I questioned why I had to have such a big thing happen to me, but then I see that I’m alive and that’s enough to be thankful for.

Here is some facts about VSD’s that I didn’t really know about myself until I did research: VSD is a hole in the wall separating the two lower chambers of the heart. In normal development, the wall between the chambers closes before the fetus is born, so that by birth, oxygen-rich blood is kept from mixing with the oxygen-poor blood. When the hole does not close, it may cause higher pressure in the heart or reduced oxygen to the body. All along I did think my premature birth led to my heart defect, but as it turns out, there is no actual underline cause.

Normally, the left side of the heart only pumps blood to the body, and the heart’s right side only pumps blood to the lungs. In a child with VSD, blood can travel across the hole from the left pumping chamber (left ventricle) to the right pumping chamber (right ventricle) and out into the lung arteries. If the VSD is large, the extra blood being pumped into the lung arteries makes the heart and lungs work harder and the lungs can become congested.

I have lived a pretty normal life I would say, despite my defect. That is what I want people to know that no matter which heart defect you may have, you are NOT alone! So many people in the world have heart defects, we can all come together and raise awareness. The heart defect I have also caused me to have a heart murmur, which when you listen to my heartbeat, you can definitely tell. Someone told me once it was the most beautiful thing they have heard, how different it beats. The only time I had to be extra careful was when I played volleyball in middle school, too much extra strain on the heart is a risk. Pregnancy is another time I will have to be closely monitored. I believe kids are in my future though, so I try not to worry too much about that part, I choose to leave it to God:)

National Heart Defects awareness week is a great opportunity to get people involved. It is a great chance to bring light to an issue some people might not know much about. I hope my story inspires those of you dealing with the same. There are many associations such as Mended Little Hearts that help provide information to those in need. I was born with a VSD but I never let it define me. My heart has been through a lot but I am happy, alive and healthy!  That really is the heart of the matter.

Stay tuned to TV20 for more updates on this story as well as others making their way around Cleveland! 🙂


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