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Global need for cardiac care

Worldwide, of all human birth defects, the most common is a heart defect. Every 30 seconds, somewhere in the world a baby is born with a life-threatening, but highly treatable heart defect – 1.3 million children each year. Heart defects are also known as congenital heart disease, or CHD, a non-communicable life-threatening disease affecting millions of children all over the world.

Timely cardiac care: The effective solution

With timely cardiac care like we have in the United States, nearly all children born with CHD can be successfully treated.

By 2000, 97% of children born with heart defects in the U.S. routinely received timely treatment, primarily through open heart surgery, before their first birthday. This enviable success rate means that the vast majority of American children with CHD have gone on to lead normal lives – and even extraordinary lives, like two-time U.S. Olympic gold medalist Shaun White who was born with complex congenital heart disease.

Heart to Heart develops new children’s heart centers where a baby born with any type of heart defect can receive timely life-saving treatment within their unique window of opportunity. Each pediatric cardiac center of excellence we develop will save thousands more children and is a step in the direction of global health equity. Learn more about our life-saving work in Russia and Peru.

Is congenital heart disease preventable?
The incidence of CHD worldwide is relatively stable: 1 in 120 children. We do not yet know exactly why some children are born with heart defects. Generally speaking, prevention approaches to birth defects are often classified into three levels. Congenital heart defects fall under complex multifactorial birth defects; a tertiary prevention category, which can be defined as: “Tertiary prevention: complete recovery of congenital abnormalities by early surgical intervention without residual defects or minimal after effects.”*

Heart to Heart’s mission is dedicated to developing new children’s heart centers to provide the only known prevention to the majority of congenital heart defects – early surgical intervention. Heart to Heart has been particularly effective in teaching new teams of pediatric cardiac physicians and nurses to treat infants and newborn babies through timely surgical intervention.

There is one form of acquired heart disease among children called rheumatic heart disease, it is caused by rheumatic fever and is preventable. The only known way to prevent rheumatic fever is to treat strep throat infections or scarlet fever promptly with a full course of appropriate antibiotics.

*For more information about other prevention categories, see Czeizel AE. Birth Defects Are Preventable. Int J Med Sci 2005; 2(3):91-92. doi:10.7150/ijms.2.91.

What is the cure for congenital heart disease?
In order for the majority of babies born with CHD to live, surgical intervention must be provided within their first three years of life – often when they are newborns (less than 30 days old), or infants (less than 1 year old).

For children born with the most serious forms of CHD, the window of opportunity may be as small as 48 hours. Successful treatment of newborn babies is considered the “gold standard” in pediatric cardiac medicine – Heart to Heart’s goal for each new team we train.

What happens to a child with CHD who does not receive timely treatment?
Each child born with a CHD has his own window of opportunity within which they can be successfully treated. Heart to Heart’s teaching and training are designed to enable new teams to treat children within their unique window of opportunity.

Sadly, after the window of opportunity has closed, children become inoperable – the disease progression can no longer be halted. As the disease inevitably progresses, a child’s quality of life steadily deteriorates, until premature death occurs. For some children, sudden death occurs.