How did this Happen?

Research continues into what causes a Congenital Heart Defect, and there is progress being made. It wasn’t that long ago when a concerned parent asked “How did this happen?” a cardiologist could only spread his hands in the universal “I don’t know” gesture. But today some answers can be given.

Most contributing factors are beyond a mother’s control. Since the 1990’s when DNA was mapped, several gene mutations have been identified as being associated with CHDs. The problem with defective genes is that you either have them or you don’t and it may never, ever affect you. Literally, there’s no problem until there is a problem.

Exposure to certain environmental factors can cause a CHD, but again, no one is sure exactly what — or how much — is the trigger. This isn’t like the Thalidomide crisis of the late 1950’s – early 1960’s when a series of birth defects was found to be connected to the use of one certain drug. It seems to be completely random.

To offer an example, there is a “cluster” of heart defects, specifically Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome (HLHS) in the Baltimore/Washington DC area. The incidence of all CHDs in this area is higher than average, and the occurrence of HLHS is higher still. A study of the area determined that the presence of  ” industrial release of solvents, dioxin, and polychlorinated biphenyls in air” could be a contributing factor. But outside the cluster, possible factors could include… “maternal art painting.” This appeared in the Jan/Feb 2006 issue of Pediatric Cardiology, so apparently there is enough of a correlation between art and HLHS to be mentioned. So hide the paint set.

Too many factors, reacting in too many different ways, give CHDs the appearance of being totally random. That’s why someone who snorts, drinks, injects, or smokes every drug known to man can have a perfectly healthy child, while someone who does all the right things during her pregnancy earns the title Heart Mom.

Perhaps there is one common factor in the causes of CHDs: Heart Moms and Heart Dads all share one common trait. Every last one of them have steel in their spines.

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