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Brookhaven nurse: Congenital Heart Defect condition is scary, can be rewarding

February is a month full of romance and reverie, but it is also a time for heart health appreciation. This week happens to be Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Week, and local healthcare professionals are promoting cardiovascular consciousness.

A congenital heart defect, or CHD, is a malformation in the heart muscle present at the time of birth, and, in the United States, roughly two million people live with CHDs.

Paige Chisolm — an emergency room nurse practitioner at King’s Daughters Medical Center — is the mother of a child with a heart condition, and she is devoted to spreading CHD awareness. Doctors discovered her son, Darran Pierce, suffered from CHD when he was 5 months old, and she described the moment of his diagnosis as “completely devastating and terrifying.”

“Being the parent of a child with a congenital heart defect is probably the scariest and most rewarding thing you can experience,” she said.

He underwent an aortic valve replacement five years ago, and, now at 18, he is healthy. But Chisolm encourages other families to pay close attention to the heart health of their children.

Some of the common CHD symptoms parents can look for in their babies are difficulty feeding, difficulty breathing, getting tired while feeding and abrupt changes in skin color. As a precautionary measure, Chisolm suggests having a pulse oximetry test done on your newborn before having them discharged from the hospital.

When it comes to a child’s health, she urges parents to follow their instincts. If a doctor says your baby is healthy, and you think otherwise, she said don’t hesitate to get a second opinion.

Chisolm also encourages the families of children with CHDs to “hang in there.”

“Build a good support system and pray a lot. God was definitely the basis of my acceptance,” she said.

According to pediatric cardiologist Dr. David Braden, one out of every 100 babies are born with some form of CHD. He works with KDMC, and his career is dedicated to helping children with heart problems.

He typically receives 50 referrals per week, and roughly 60 percent of the children he treats hale from the counties surrounding Brookhaven. The remainder comes from Jackson.

Recent advances in cardiovascular medicine have changed the way Braden treats his patients. Heart conditions were once considered catastrophic, but scientific breakthroughs have drastically improved CHD survival rates.

“Many of the defects we used to fix through surgery are now remedied in the catheterization lab,” he said.

That being said, according to the Children’s Heart Foundation, CHD research is seriously under-funded in both the public and private sectors relative to the number of lives the disease affects.

Chisolm’s cousin, Chef Trey Maddox at Georgia Blue Bakery, is also involved in spreading CHD awareness while raising money for research. For the month of February, the bakery is selling a red velvet cheesecake with red, white and pink hearts sprinkled on top. A portion of the proceeds from sales of the cheesecake will go toward CHD research, he said.