It’s Congenital Heart Disease Awareness Week in St. Michael this week. And it’s the same in Buffalo. And Elk River. And a number other places around the state of Minnesota. The entire state actually (because the Governor signed it, too).
Mayors have handed proclamations to mothers in communities from A to Z (we should check on Zimmerman, really) because, well, someone asked them to. Someone, probably a mother, said, “Hey, it’s a time when everyone is thinking about hearts. So let’s raise awareness for the 1 in 100 kids like ours who nearly didn’t make it to that first Valentine’s Day, or maybe didn’t at all. And let’s inform people about the most fatal birth defect that’s impacting thousands of families every day.”
Maybe you didn’t know.
I didn’t, until exactly three years ago. A little girl and her mom stood up in front of St. Michael City Council, and the rest is history. They’ve been doing it every year since.
Jennifer Helstrom has pushed Hailey’s cause from St. Michael to the state capitol. So, too, have countless other mothers who have been through nearly the same experience.
These are moms who have watched their kids get whisked away to surgical rooms and evaluation tables, instead of getting to rock that newborn son in the corner, like the other 90 percent of mothers do in the hours after their children are born.
They put their lives on hold for ridiculous amounts of time. In the end, they’re either sent home with a child that is going to need more love and attention than they could have possibly imagined going into this. Or, they’re headed home empty-handed, planning a funeral for a child they hardly had a chance to know.
With more than 40 different kinds of CHD ailments out there, the results are always going to vary.
So, you ask, what can I do? Is this another sob story? Do I just throw my hands up?
Nope. You donate blood. Because when an infant is tied to a heart and lung machine waiting for a surgery, blood is vital, and it’s always in short supply.
You know that little check box that says “Donor” on your driver’s license? Check it. You have no excuse. When you can give the gift of life to a child that is kidney failure, or liver failure, or, God forbid, heart failure, I don’t care who you are … you get a pass to heaven. O.K. I don’t know that for sure, but why not? You’ve made the ultimate sacrifice a civilian can probably make.
Give to charity. There are countless that are great – but the kid-oriented ones are the best. Do research to make SURE they fund research. You can also give to The Children’s Heart Foundation. Even Ronald McDonald House or the amazing children’s hospitals here in the Twin Cities are deserving. Or any hospital that employs those angels that are neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) nurses and doctors. My son was in one for five days, and my goodness, those people are amazing.
Maybe buy a smaller box of chocolates, pick a cheaper place for dinner, or rent a movie instead of going to the theater – and donate the difference. Let your sweetheart know you did it in her (or his) name, because you wanted to help give a kid a chance. A baby a chance. A mother a chance.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has,” Margaret Mead once said.
When you add in the fact these women (and yes, dads, too) have been through hell … and back? Well, things are gonna change. It’s time we help change them.
Have a heart this Valentine’s Day. Stop, for a moment, and think about CHD and what you can do to help. Then go ahead and eat one of those chalky candies that say “Too Cool.”
Because you were.