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Medical Advancements Helping Combat Congenital Heart Defects

February is American Heart Month and February 7-14 is Congenital Heart Defect Awareness week. (WRSP)

February is American Heart Month and February 7-14 is Congenital Heart Defect Awareness week. Nearly 40,000 children are born with congenital heart defects in the U.S. each year; that's one child every 15 minutes.

In 2013, 24 percent of infants who died at birth had some form of heart defect. Infants do have the highest morality rate when it comes to congenital heart defect deaths. Thanks to advancements through research, medical professionals are able to better understand the complexities associated with CHD and are getting better at detecting these issues even before birth.

The birth of a baby is typically the happiest day in a parent's life, but when a baby is born with a congenital heart defect, that can all change very quickly.

"I think the most common question parents want to know when the baby's born is if the baby's going to be alright and if they're going to need surgery or not," Dr. Ramzi Souki, a pediatric cardiologist, said.

About 25 percent of children born with a CHD will need surgery or other interventions to survive; some need multiple surgeries during very early stages of life.

"My first surgery was when I was six weeks old," Charlie Batton said. “My second surgery was when I was eight months old and then my final surgery was when I was three years old.”

Charlie suffers from a single ventricle heart defect and had surgeries which saved his life.

"They rearranged the blood vessels in my heart so that it would work better and last longer," Charlie said.

"It was hard. It's hard to watch your little baby go through those operating doors and not be sure what's going to happen. Certainly, those were probably the three hardest days of our lives," Dr. Beau Batton, Charlie's dad, said.

Luckily, for Charlie and many others, research is getting better.

"The baby's heart, when they're born, is the size of a quarter. You can imagine how difficult it is to perform corrective repairs on a structure that is that small. However, the expertise of our surgeons, the skills we have in repairing these defects is only increasing," Dr. Souki said.

1.3 million Americans currently live with some form of CHD. Thanks to modern medicine, they are able to live a very normal life.

"I'm probably going to dive in high school, if they still have it. Hopefully they will by the time I get to high school," Charlie said.

"Most of the time, he's as normal of a kid as you can be. It's kind of a distant memory," Dr. Batton said.

The American Heart Association and the Children's Heart Foundation fund more than $1,000,000 in CHD research. These grants are able to support vital research in hopes of providing a better quality of life for those who suffer from CHD.

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