February is Heart Month. This might seem obvious because of Valentine’s Day and how we celebrate this “day of love”. However, Heart Month isn’t just about celebrating Valentine’s Day – it’s also about raising awareness for Congenital Heart Disease (CHD), and people who live with various heart-related issues and illnesses.
If you’ve stumbled upon my blog for the first time, then you may not know that I was actually born with a form of CHD called Bi-Cuspid Aortic Stenosis. This means that my aortic valve only had two leaflets instead of the three that the valve is supposed to have, which caused my heart to have to work much harder to pump blood out of the left ventricle, through the aorta, and into my body. Over the years, the valve became increasingly “stenotic”, which basically means, thickened, to the point where the opening for blood flow was almost completely closed.
When I was 10 years old, I had a Valvuloplasty, which is when they insert a balloon into the valve laparoscopically to stretch it, as a temporary solution to help delay valve replacement surgery. This worked for me for several years, but for those of you who have been following me for awhile, you know that I did end up having valve replacement surgery this past December, 2018. Valve replacement surgery is an open-heart sternotomy procedure, where they cut through the sternum and physically remove the defective and damaged valve in order to replace it with either an animal or mechanic valve. My particular surgery ended up presenting the surgical team with some unexpected challenges, and I also received an emergency bypass, which involved removing a vein from my left leg and placing it in my heart to re-establish blood flow from the right ventricle to the aorta.
My recovery in the immediate aftermath was difficult, and in the months following, has been slow but steady. I will definitely write a follow-up blog post going into more of the details of my surgery and recovery, but for today, I wanted to take time to highlight the importance of raising awareness for CHD, because despite the fact that it impacts hundreds of thousands of Canadians, the research for CHD is severely underfunded. As someone who has experienced the effects of being born with Congenital Heart Disease, and living with the associated issues my entire life – which for me included/include having to avoid physical activity in order to prevent enlarging the heart muscle, extreme fatigue, dizzy and fainting spells, chest pain and erratic heartbeats, being on life-long medication, etc; this cause is quite literally near and dear to my heart, and I want to do my part to help raise awareness.
There are lots of great organizations here in Canada, such as the Heart & Stroke Foundation, which are doing their part to help raise money and fund research for CHD here in Canada, and I am so honoured to have been asked to speak and share some of my story at an upcoming local fundraiser hosted by the Hornets Hockey Team for the upcoming Hockey Heroes Weekend, in support of the Heart & Stroke Foundation. Although I’m not nervous about speaking in front of a large crowd, and I recognize that it might be an emotional experience for me, I hope that the personal aspect will continue to put actual faces to the funds being raised.
Additionally, I’ve been so impressed by the number of Canadian businesses that have stepped up this month in order to raise money for this important cause as well! One that I have the pleasure of working with is Paris Jewellers Canada. Paris Jewellers has created a special collection of pieces called the “Give Love Collection“, and a portion of the proceeds of every purchase made in February will be donated to the Heart & Stroke Foundation.
Paris Jewellers has gifted me this absolutely gorgeous 14K Rose Gold Diamond Pear Shape Morganite Ring as a keepsake to commemorate my journey with CHD, and my recovery from open-heart surgery. I will also be hosting two giveaways with Paris Jewellers, where you will have the chance to win pieces from the Give Love Collection, and continue to have an impact.
So – even though Valentine’s Day is over – it’s definitely not too late to pick up a special piece from Paris Jewellers and “Give Love” to someone special in your life, along with all of those like me who are dependent on the research of organizations like the Heart and Stroke Foundation, to continue to improve our lifelong prognosis and quality of life.
I am definitely one of the lucky ones – although my journey has not been without its challenges – the reality is, a lot of people aren’t as fortunate as I have been, and CHD continues to be a lifelong reality for many Canadian children and adults. Below are a few statistics on CHD quoted directly from the Canadian Congenital Heart Alliance website:
- Congenital Heart Disease is the world’s leading birth defect.
- About 1 in 80-100 children in Canada are born with CHD.
- There are an estimated 257,000 Canadians with Congenital Heart Disease
- There are fewer resources allocated for the care of adult CHD patients than other cardiac patients.
- Research in the area of adult CHD has not reached the level of sophistication observed in other areas of heart disease research – even though CHD-related research has the potential for greater impact.
So – with the end of February nearing, you’ll observe Valentine’s Day displays being taken down, and you’ll be able to purchase all the discount heart-shaped candy and chocolates you could possibly desire. “Heart Month” will officially be over. But – for those of us living with CHD, every month is heart month, and I know that I for one, couldn’t be more grateful for those of you who are helping to raise both funds and awareness for this life-changing, life-saving cause.
For more information on CHD in Canada, and how you can get involved, check out the following websites:
- Heart Disease in Canada – Official Government of Canada Website
- Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada
- Canadian Congenital Heart Alliance
From the bottom of my heart, thank-you for your support!