Hearts! Cupids! Chocolate! These have been the iconic images of Valentine’s Day throughout the years. Yes, it’s coming up. Take note. But did you know that February 14th, 2016 is also National Congenital Heart Defects Awareness Day?

Congenital heart defects (CHDs) are the most common birth defect, affecting 1 in 100-200 babies born every year. Today, more than one million survivors of CHDs are among us.

A congenital heart defect is a difference in the structure of the heart that is present at birth. There are many different types of conditions that can affect any part of the heart from the walls, to the valves and even the arteries and veins. Some children will need interventions as babies while other heart defects are not detected until childhood or even adulthood.

There are both genetic and non-genetic causes of CHD but the cause remains unknown for most heart warriors. About 10% of individuals with a CHD have an underlying chromosome abnormality, with Down syndrome (an extra copy of chromosome 21) being the most common. A family history of a CHD may warrant further screening in a pregnancy. Some phrases that may describe a possible CHD are “blue baby” or a “hole in the heart”. If you have a family history of a CHD, your prenatal care provider may recommend a detailed anatomy scan at 18-20 weeks gestation or a more in depth screen through a fetal echocardiogram, a detailed ultrasound of the baby’s heart, conducted between 22-24 weeks of pregnancy. While these do not detect all possible CHDs, most major structural problems will be identified.

There are many organizations that hope to raise awareness and research funding for CHD. They also share stories and provide hope and guidance for families living with CHD. Some of these groups include Big Hearts to Little Hearts, Mended Little Hearts, and Little Hearts.

After you’ve cut our your construction paper heart and glued on the appropriate amount of lace and sparkle, take a moment to visit the American Heart Association to learn more about congenital heart defects.

Jennifer Garbarini

Jen is a licensed and board-certified genetic counselor at CooperGenomics. She has a background in research and pediatric cardiovascular genetics. Prior to joining CooperGenomics, Jen worked at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s Division of Cardiology as both a research coordinator for a large multi-center study and as a clinical genetic counselor. She received her B.S. in Biology from Ursinus College and her M.S. in Genetic Counseling from Arcadia University. Jen remains active with Arcadia’s genetic counseling program and has served as a clinical supervisor, instructor and thesis advisor for Arcadia students. Outside of work, she enjoys watching her two boys play sports, reading and going to the beach.