National Reading Month: You’re Here for a Reason

For the month of March, PCHA will be focusing on the theme of National Reading Month. In the 3rd post of our series, PCHA’s Jessica Chenevert talks with us about one special book. Read on to hear why You’re Here for a Reason holds a special place in her heart.

Barrett checking out his book

When I bought this children’s book, I had no idea that the first time I would read it to my son, Bear, I would be brought to tears. Never in my life has a book made me cry. The book is titled, “You’re Here for a Reason,” and it’s written and illustrated by Nancy Tillman. I decided to buy it, because I loved another one of her books, “On the Night You Were Born,” which Bear had received as a gift for his first Christmas. Not only does the book have a beautiful rhyming phrases, but it is written in a way that floats off the pages and can truly relate itself to your life. In my case, the words reached through the pages and spoke to me about Barrett’s journey with Congenital Heart Disease. The book, as far as I know, has no relation to heart disease and wasn’t written with a heart kid in mind, but every word I read applied to it perfectly.

Barrett is here for a reason. Every one of us is. Nancy shows her readers how each of us fits into life’s big picture and how this world would simply be incomplete without each of us in it. As we sat there after reading the book, I held my sweet, strong warrior and rocked him back and forth and thought it was such a perfect gift for children and families living with CHD.

One of the fun things I am able to do at PCHA is pick a quote and pair it with photo to create an inspirational design of sorts. Naturally, I created one using a passage from one of these great books and posted it on social media. To my great surprise, the author herself engaged in the post. I immediately reached out to her on my personal account about my love for her books and sent her a picture of Barrett.

Of course, she responded to those also, and I was overjoyed. A small interaction, but one that would stay with me. Little did I know it would not end there. Last September, I had the privilege of being honored at the Congenital Heart Gala in Milwaukee with the Heart Hero of the Year Award. Our Director of Programs, Amy, knowing my love for Nancy Tillman books, reached out to the New York Times best-selling author so that when I walked up to accept the award I would also have a copy of “You’re Here for a Reason” made out to Barrett, complete with a signature.

Ezra on his 2nd Birthday

Giving parents words that can match the feelings they have for their children is Nancy Tillman’s goal in creating these books. Before I even knew about that, I had felt it. I had already decided it would be the book I wanted to gift to other amazing little warriors and their parents. Just one month earlier, I had given it as part of a gift from Barrett to his buddy Ezra on his 2nd birthday. Now, Barrett and Ezra were born roughly two weeks apart, they had all the same newborn clothes, underwent surgery at the same hospital, and were both living with CHD. Ezra’s battle had been particularly rough, but Ezzie’s mom and I liked to call them twins, because even with different defects, different struggles, and ultimately different outcomes…they were brothers on this journey.

This book has a special place on Barrett’s book shelf and in my heart. Each time we read it, I hope he knows how truly amazing and strong he is and how much he is loved.

 

 

 

Note from the Author:

Dear loving parents,

My own grandchild was born with a hole in her heart, so I know much of the struggle that you are going through.  She is well and happy now and that is what I wish for all your precious children.  I wrote You’re Here for a Reason to speak from your heart. I so dearly hope it does.  Your child is miraculous.

Blessings,

Nancy Tillman

 

 

 

 

Jess lives up the North Shore of Minnesota with her husband Nolan and their son Barrett “Bear” and their dog Bailey. Barrett was born with Transposition of the Great Arteries & Coarctation of the Aorta. With a background in several aspects of the medical field Jess. Joined PCHA shortly after Barrett’s Birth and subsequent diagnosis. Now a stay at home heart mom she strives to be an active volunteer as an advocate, committee member, and Social Media Coordinator for PCHA.

Join fellow advocates in D.C. and email Congress!

As you read this, more than 180 fellow advocates are on Capitol Hill meeting with their Members of Congress as part of the 2017 Congenital Heart Legislative Conference.  They are asking their lawmakers to support research, data collection and awareness activities related to congenital heart disease (CHD). This includes recruitment of co-sponsors for the recently introduced Congenital Heart Futures Reauthorization Act of 2017.

We need you to participate from home!

Help us bring the voice of CHD to Washington by sending an email to your Members of Congress.

It’s as easy as 1, 2, 3!

  1. Find your legislator’s contact information.
    – If this is your first time reaching out, use the contact form on the legislator’s website to send your email.  Visit www.senate.gov or www.house.gov.
    – If you have identified the Health LA, or had a previous contact with your member or a member of their staff, please feel free to use the direct email address you were given.

2. Copy and paste the email below – adding your own personal story.

3. Send it!

You did it!  If you successfully connect with your legislator or their office, let us know you made contact by completing our online form available here.

This is a very exciting day and a great opportunity to work together to Conquer CHD!

__________

Sample Letter:

Subject: Support Congenital Heart Disease Research

Dear Senator/Congressman [Fill in name here],

I’m writing to urge you to support federal research, surveillance and awareness for congenital heart disease (CHD).

Every 15 minutes, a baby is born with congenital heart disease, the most common birth defect and leading cause of birth defect related infant death.  Even for those who receive successful intervention, it is not a cure. Children and adults with congenital heart disease require ongoing, costly, specialized cardiac care and face a lifelong risk of permanent disability and premature death. As a result, healthcare utilization among the congenital heart disease population is significantly higher than the general population.
Continued federal investment is necessary to provide rigorous epidemiological and longitudinal public health surveillance and public health research on infants, children, adolescents and adults to better understand congenital heart disease at every age, improve outcomes and reduce costs.

We urge Congress to:

  • Cosponsor the Congenital Heart Futures Reauthorization Act (S.477/H.R.1222). To cosponsor this important legislation please contact Max Kanner (max_kanner@durbin.senate.gov) with Senator Durbin’s office or Shayne Woods (Shayne.Woods@mail.house.gov) with Congressman Bilirakis’ office.
  • Provide $7 million to the CDC and $2 billion over FY2017 to the NIH in fiscal year 2018; if including in your appropriations request, sample language is available
  • Join the Congenital Heart Congressional Caucus (for House Members – contact Shayne.woods@mail.house.gov)

If you would like any additional information please contact Amy Basken at abasken@conqueringchd.org.

Thank you-
[Your Name – your city/state]

Congenital Heart Futures Act of 2017 (S.477/H.R.1222)

Congenital Heart Disease Legislation

In February, 2017, the Congenital Heart Futures Act Reauthorization Bill was re-introduced in the Senate (S.477) and House (H.R.1222) by legislative champions:

  • Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL)
  • Senator Bob Casey (D-PA)
  • Representative Gus Bilirakis (R-FL)
  • Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA)

Current Cosponsors (Updated 3/2/17)

Senate Cosponsors
House Cosponsors

We are awaiting the first update of co-sponsors

Are your legislators on the list?

If not email them, today!!!


Here’s more information about the CHFRA:

Original Congenital Heart Futures Act

First passed into law in 2010, the bipartisan Congenital Heart Futures Act was groundbreaking legislation authorizing research and data collection specific to Congenital Heart Disease.  This law called for expanded infrastructure to track the epidemiology of CHD at the CDC and increased lifelong CHD research at the NIH.

Since the enactment of the Congenital Heart Futures Act, Congress has appropriated $11 million to the CDC for these activities. The Congenital Heart Futures Act also urged the NHLBI to continue its use of its multi-centered congenital heart research network, the Pediatric Heart Network (PHN) that help guide the care of children and adults with CHD. Together, these efforts have improved our understanding of CHD across the lifespan, the age-specific prevalence, and factors associated with dropping out of appropriate specialty care.

We are excited that the reauthorization of this important law will allow the CDC and NIH to build upon existing programs and focus on successful activities addressing this public health need.  First re-introduced in 2015, the CHRFA did not get passed during the 2015-2016 Congress.  It was reintroduced in February of 2017 with some changes to the language to help forward movement of the bill, but the basic intent of the legislation is the same.

Key Aspect of the new Reauthorization Bill

The CHFRA continues these important activities and builds on them by:

  • Assessing the current research needs and projects related to CHD across the lifespan at the NIH.The bill directs the NIH to assess its current research into CHD so that we can have a better understanding of the state of biomedical research as it relates to CHD
  • Expanding research into CHD. The bill directs the CDC to continue to build their public health research and surveillance programs. This will help us understand healthcare utilization, demographics, lead to evidence-based practices and guidelines for CHD.
  • Raising awareness of CHD through the lifespan. The bill allows for CDC to establish and implement a campaign to raise awareness of congenital heart disease. Those who have a CHD and their families need to understand their healthcare needs promote the need for pediatric, adolescent and adult individuals with CHD to seek and maintain lifelong, specialized care.

This comprehensive approach to CHD – the most prevalent birth defect – will address a necessary public health issue and lead to better quality of life and care for those with CHD.

Here is the complete text as introduced in the House on 11/5/15. There are differences between how the bill in the House and Senate are written, based on key factors in the political process for each.  This is anticipated to be reconciled later on in the bill passage process.

If you have any questions about this legislation, please contact our Director of Programs, Amy Basken, at abasken@conqueringchd.org.

If you are interested in becoming an advocate for this important issue, visit the advocacy section of our website which contains information about signing-up, as well as tools to help you be an amazing advocate.

Together, we will CONQUER CHD!

Caleb Sams

After what appeared to be a picture perfect pregnancy, we were so excited to head to the hospital for our first child, Caleb, to be born.  This day, which began with excitement and joy, would turn into a roller coaster of emotions.

After hours of labor, it was apparent that Caleb was in trouble. His heart rate kept dropping.  Finally his heart rate dropped and would not come back up.  I was rushed back to do an emergency cesarean. When he was born, Caleb’s oxygen saturation never went above the 60s. A normal person’s oxygen saturation is usually above 95.  I kept asking to see him and the nurses kept replying, “we just need to pink him up a little.”  As naive new parents we accepted this explanation.  However when they finally showed him to me, they told us something was wrong and he would need to be taken back to the special care unit.  After a couple of hours of trying to diagnose the problem, it became clear the complication was related to Caleb’s heart and he would need to be transferred to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.

Caleb was brought to me in an incubator where I was finally able to touch his hands and feet.  While I tried desperately to soak in these brief moments with him, the transfer team explained to us that something was wrong with his heart and that he would require open heart surgery most likely within the first week of his life.  My husband then went with our son, while I had to remain at the birthing hospital.  At Children’s Hospital they diagnosed Caleb with a Congenital Heart Defect called Transposition of the Great Arteries.

Only three days later our sweet newborn son had open heart surgery to save his life.  Kissing our son and sending into an operating room with doctors and nurses we had only just met the in the last couple days was one of the most excruciating moments of our lives.  After hours and hours the surgery was finally complete.  Caleb did well in the surgery and recovered quickly with very few complications.  

Looking at our son now still amazes us sometimes.  He has needed some extra help in areas because of developmental delay and he does have a couple complications with his heart that his cardiologist is monitoring.  But over all Caleb is a typical little boy.  He plays basketball, loves playing outside, and can tell you anything you want to know about his video games.  Our miracle boy fills our lives with joy and laughter.  He has changed our lives forever and reminds us every day to focus on what is truly important.

Owen

Owen was born on July 16, 2012, a healthy baby boy. He passed all his newborn tests and we were both sent home with the elation of new parents.

After a few weeks, I noticed that nursing was getting quite difficult, as Owen would nurse for only a few minutes, then fall asleep. As soon as I would burp him, he’d wake up and cry because he was hungry. I was literally nursing him every 45-90 minutes.

I had a gut feeling that something just wasn’t right. I took him to see our pediatrician and she discovered he was not gaining any weight, approaching failure to thrive. She suggested I give him a bottle of pumped milk after nursing and come back in a week, which I did, and he had gained over a pound! At that point, we just assumed I wasn’t making enough milk for him.

Our pediatrician then did a once over on him, since we were so close to his 6 week well child check up. It was then she heard a slight heart murmur. It was so slight she wasn’t even sure she heard it, but she insisted that we go see a pediatric cardiologist.

Miraculously, we were contacted by the cardiologists office the very next day, asking if we could come in due to a cancellation. We decided to go in, thinking this would be a quick visit. Well, we sure were wrong! After an EKG and an ECHO, it was determined that Owen had aortic stenosis and coarctation of the aorta. It was so severe, they couldn’t detect a pulse on the bottom of his feet!

We were immediately referred to Motts Children’s hospital in Ann Arbor, MI and surgery was scheduled for 5 days later. We were in shock as we headed to Ann Arbor, but somehow we both survived the 5 hour open heart surgery. He had the Ross procedure done to correct the stenosis. We were told that his current conduit pulmonary valve will need to be replaced again around his 5th birthday.

We are so very grateful to Dr. Ohye and his team, as well as the nurses at Mott’s for saving Owen’s life, and putting up with crazy, uptight parents full of questions every 5 minutes! So far, Owen has had a great life- full of energy and not showing any signs of slowing down! He has his yearly cardiologist appointment in February, where it will be determined when or if he will require another open heart surgery to replace his conduit pulmonary valve.

Congenital Heart Network

The Pediatric Congenital Heart Association (PCHA) is thrilled to announce the creation of our newest program: the Congenital Heart Network.

As we continue to build upon our mission to Conquer Congenital Heart Disease, we recognize the importance of meeting the needs of patients with congenital heart disease (CHD) and their families every step of the way along their journey. Expanding our programming from national activities to local ones is a critical next step. The Congenital Heart Network aims to bring patients with CHD and their families together to provide hope and support to every member of this ever-growing community across the country.

One of the Pediatric Congenital Heart Association’s strategic goals is to develop the foundation for a single congenital heart disease organization to meet the comprehensive needs of those impacted by CHD.

The Congenital Heart Network is the first step toward accomplishing this goal.  The Network will meet the many needs of the CHD community through a single, larger organization.  This program provides new collaborations, significant strength in numbers, and an infrastructure that enhances our ability to improve the lives of those living with CHD.

In addition to virtual, peer-to-peer support communities, the Network will consist of state-based chapters empowered to execute local programming providing education and support directly to CHD patients and their families.

We have been working with a team of committed volunteers with extensive experience in running and managing a national peer support network and look forward to a staged roll-out of this new important program.  As the program continues to grow, I encourage you to communicate with your local support programs to assess whether participation in the Congenital Heart Network would be advantageous to them as we offer some of the following benefits:

  • Provision of tax-exempt status under a group 501(c)(3) exemption;
  • Support in incorporation and annual filing requirements
  • Web page dedicated to information about the Network and contacts;
  • Employment of staff dedicated to the Congenital Heart Network;
  • Educational webinars to assist with management of groups;
  • Access to congenital heart related educational materials to disseminate to local network participants.
  • Additional program materials such as care package essentials

 

We are very excited about this tremendous opportunity to grow the voice of congenital heart disease while better meeting the needs of individuals with CHD and their families.  Together, we are Conquering CHD!!!!

Stay tuned for more information about how individuals can join the Network as we build our peer-to-peer structure.

Interested in learning more about forming a Chapter in your state?

Please contact: Amy Basken – Director of Programs: abasken@conqueringchd.org

or

Melanie Toth – Director:  mtoth@conqueringchd.org;

Megan Setzer – Director: msetzer@conqueringchd.org

 

PCHA 2017 Policy Update

 

Looking ahead to 2017, the Pediatric Congenital Heart Association has spent the last several months developing strategic policy goals that address the needs of the congenital heart disease community, including research, data collection and public health policy.  In the next weeks, along with finalizing these goals, we will be meeting with organizational partners, our legislative champions and advocates, like you, to establish next steps to address these key policy issues in the coming year.

 

 

Our stories matter.  What you can do now:

1) Begin to build relationships: Identify who represents you and learn about them.  Listen to what is important to them.

2) Open the lines of communication – Collect your lawmakers’ email addresses, phone number and contact information for the district office near you.  For newly elected officials, this may not be available until January; however, many have social media contacts via FB and twitter.

3) Share your story.  Introduce them to your world of chronic illness.  Let them know that health issues matter to you.

Completing these steps will lay the ground work for effective advocacy in the months ahead.

We, also, urge you to consider attending the Congenital Heart Legislative Conference in Washington D.C. on March 1-2.  Here you will:

  • Learn about current CHD activities in Washington D.C.
  • Learn how to effectively tell your story.
  • Connect with other CHD patients and professionals.
  • Share your story with your members of Congress.
  • Inform your legislators about the key policy issues including the need for research and data collection.
  • Make a difference on behalf of those living with CHD!

As always, we are inspired by the strength of the millions of people impacted by congenital heart disease.  By coming together, we are conquering CHD!

We’re Partnering With The Mighty!

We’re thrilled to announce a new partnership that will bring our resources in front of The Mighty‘s wide-reaching readership. We will now have a growing home page on The Mighty and appear on many stories on the site.

Your story matters.

The Mighty is a story-based health community focused on improving the lives of people facing disease, disorder, mental illness and disability. More than half of Americans are facing serious health conditions or medical issues. They want more than information. They want to be inspired. The Mighty publishes real stories about real people facing real challenges.

We’re dedicated to helping people with congenital heart defect in their lives. With this partnership, we’ll be able to help even more people.

Here’s an example of the great stories you will find on The Mighty: https://themighty.com/2016/07/congenital-heart-defect-man-makes-promise-to-be-an-advocate/

We encourage you to submit a story to The Mighty and make your voice heard!