Archive for the ‘ACHA’ Category

A Cure for Heart Defects!

November 26, 2010

“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before the decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth.”
– President John F. Kennedy, May 25, 1961

 

On September 29, 2010, Fran Visco of the National Breast Cancer Coalition appeared in a video posted to YouTube. It contains a powerful message.

“We can’t count on hope as a strategy to end breast cancer. I’m giving up hope, because hope is not a solution. Hope will not end breast cancer; we need a plan, a goal… a deadline.”

What a statement… and what a shift in thinking! Think about what she is saying: HOPE CAN NOT CURE OUR DISEASE. Hope is a good and pure thing, a friend we hold close in our most desperate moments. Take note that she did not say “I am giving up on hope,” because she’s not. Hope is what keeps us going when the world crashes down around us. But we need to realize that hope alone can not fix defective hearts.

A popular phrase that you may have heard is “We will cure (chronic illness) in our lifetimes.” The problem is, all generations living with the chronic illness use that phrase as a rallying cry. Time moves on, the older generation passes away, but the phrase is still being used. Eventually, the urgency disappears. There is no real urgency for beating the disease… just an empty promise that it will happen “in our lifetimes.”

In the same vein, “Awareness” is not an endpoint for the Heart Defect community. What good is awareness if it does not bring people to take action? We are winning – the number of deaths caused by Heart Defects is dropping. The American Heart Association estimates that in 2005, 3,500 people died from Congenital Heart Defects. That’s the most current statistics that they have available, so the number may even be lower today. But that’s not acceptable. That’s still 3,500 of our friends, our families, our sons, and our daughters – dying each and every year.  Being “aware” of a Heart Defect isn’t enough, so perhaps it is time to redefine ourselves, and rethink everything we’re about, everything we are fighting for.

It’s time to declare war on Congenital Heart Defects. All out, bare knuckle, unrestricted mortal combat. Like Miss Visco said, there needs to be a plan, a goal, and a deadline.

THE PLAN:

POINT ONE: To find new medical and surgical options to increase the survivability of Congenital Heart Disease;
POINT TWO: To research the occurrences, causes, and possible prevention of Congenital Heart Disease;
POINT THREE: The reduction and elimination of mortality and disability associated with Congenital Heart Disease.

THE GOAL: To eradicate Congenital Heart Disease.

THE DEADLINE: November 29, 2024 – the 80th anniversary of the first Blalock-Taussig shunt.

So how are we going to do it?

I can’t answer that. I am not a doctor or a scientist; I have Bachelor of Science degrees in History and Political Science.  And to add to the challenge, we are going to have to do this all by ourselves. If we’ve proven one thing, it’s the fact that Congenital Heart Disease is an invisible disability and without a unified approach, we have no voice. For several years the Adult Congenital Heart Association (ACHA) traveled to Washington DC to lobby for a federal level registry of Congenital Heart Defects. Only after we united with seven other nationally recognized Heart Defect Support groups and formed the National Congenital Heart Coalition were we able to get legislation introduced in Congress and eventually inserted into the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

So lets put our heads together again. It will be up to us to not only do the fund-raising, but to be the first ones to give – give our money, give our effort, and give our time. We have to gather the resources, fund the research, educate the public and lead the charge. If we don’t support our own cause, why should anyone else support it?

In 1961, President John Kennedy challenged the nation to put a man on the moon before the end of the decade. Back then, we could barely get a rocket off the ground, much less think about going that far. Along the way we won some major battles and we lost some good people, but in July 1969 the Apollo 11 crew landed safely on the moon and came home.

We have to be willing to put everything we have on the table and draw that last card. It could all blow up in our face…but we could also hit the jackpot!

Let’s rise to the challenge. This is our Apollo program, our impossible dream.

Let’s go to the moon.

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Grunt Work

November 7, 2010

I was in Philadelphia last April, helping out at the offices of the Adult Congenital Heart Association (ACHA) as they prepared for Lobby Day 2010.  On Lobby Day ACHA members – joined by members of the Children’s Heart Foundation and Mended Little Hearts – gathered in Washington, DC to visit the US Capitol. Our goal was not a sight-seeing trip, but to visit our legislators and convince them to fund Congenital Heart Defect provisions of the new healthcare law.

Knowing the ACHA office would be swamped with work (we had a total of four people in the office at that time) I volunteered to come to Philadelphia a few days early and help out any way I could. Unusually enough, “any way I could” turned out to be…

…. copying, sorting, and stapling.

Wow – that was a classy assignment there, Steve. They must not have needed that much help, after all!

Hardly. The ACHA staff was still setting up appointments with the legislators or their staff when I arrived. 48 hours until we left for DC; 72 hours to Lobby Day, and things hadn’t fallen into place yet. When we weren’t making appointments we were on the phone with our Advocacy Director working out final details. There was also a small crisis with the host hotel that wasn’t resolved until the last moment.

Making legislative appointments for 100+ attendees, smoothing things out with the hotel, working with the Advocacy Director to make sure things were just right… I don’t know how to do any of those things. So I was copying, and folding, and sorting, and stapling – so that the people who do know how to do those things didn’t have to worry about it. Or stop what they are doing to do it.

It’s “grunt work” – the repetitious, mindless type of job that no one wants to do. Everyone there could have done it, but they had skills that I don’t have, so I did the job. My best guess is that I handled 500+ separate sheets of paper. If you attended Lobby Day 2010, your informational sheets were assembled by me. (Don’t worry, I washed my hands!)

This is what advocacy for any worthwhile cause is – the willingness to do the little tasks, the grunt work, the behind the scenes activities that makes everything flow smoothly.

Cheer Up!

October 7, 2010

It’s been a rough week for those of us with a Congenital Heart Defect, and things have been pretty gloomy here at Funky Heart Central. But a few days ago a friend took a photo and added some text. After it was printed, she and her husband signed it, slipped it into an envelope, and mailed it to me. It arrived today and things are beginning to look brighter! (Click Photo to Enlarge!)

Thank you, Amanda and Jim!!

 

Denver Congenital Heart Walk 2010

 

Road Trip!

August 24, 2010

GREETINGS FROM ATLANTA!

I’m in town for a scheduled checkup with my Cardiologist – tomorrow morning at the Adult Congenital Cardiology Clinic at Emory University Hospital. I’ve got to get on the right page – they’ve recently started calling the Clinic the EACH Center (Emory Adult Congenital Heart). That’s ok with me… they could call it the Greater Atlanta Earthworm Racing League if they wanted, they’re still number one in my book.

This is a routine appointment, scheduled months ago, but I have a feeling it could be a bit more detailed than usual…. it was planned before my fall. So I’m betting that I’ll be scrutinized a little closer than I normally would. That’s fine, and will really set my mind at ease.

I really can’t say enough about the Emory team – they keep me going. Not long after I was released from the Emergency Department in Houston and returned to my hotel room, I sent an e-mail to my Cardiologist and the unit Nurse Practitioner telling them what had happened. Within a few hours I received an e-mail back from both of them. My doctor was pleased at the level of care I had described, and told me to keep him informed. The NP had a question: Had I really tripped? Was it possible that I had blacked out? That could signal a larger problem.

Nope…. I tripped. I didn’t just hit the bag and go down, I lost balance and did a stutter-step or two before falling, so there was no question about that. I had fallen flat on my chest, too – right on my pacemaker. My cell phone was broken in the fall, could the pacer have been damaged, also? It’s certainly a lot more important to me than a cell phone! I called the pacer lab and they checked my pacemaker over the telephone right then…. and called with the results two hours later. It was fine, and my leads were functional, too.

So not only are they good, they can be fast when you need them!

GAMECHANGER

July 10, 2010

You won’t see many Saturday editions of Adventures of a Funky Heart! But then again, I don’t find important news like this every day:

…as the American Board of Internal Medicine voted unanimously for the Adult Congenital Heart Disease (ACHD) sub-specialty to be approved for board certification – the American Board of Pediatrics had previously signed-off on the new sub-specialty.

(Emphasis mine)

As I have mentioned before, seeing an Adult Congenital Cardiologist is critical to the care of a person with a Congenital Heart Defect. Adult Cardiologists, for the most part, aren’t very familiar with congenital defects. They are trained to deal with the problems that develop in a healthy heart as a person ages – clogged arteries, Cholesterol problems, and heart attacks. Adult CHDers won’t have those problems – or they will manifest themselves differently than would happen in a “normal” heart. So we need to be seen by an Adult Congenital Cardiologist.

But there are no Adult Congenital Cardiologists – not really. We do have a small group of people who have the experience needed to care for Heart Warriors, but there is nothing on paper. My doctor, for example, is Co-Director of the Adult Congenital Cardiology program at a major hospital…. but his license says he’s a Pediatric Cardiologist. And at one time he was; he just kept following his patients for as long as they needed him, and he’s “grown up” with the rest of us.

Since there are no “official” Adult Congenital Cardiologists, what does the approval for board certification mean? Simply put, there will be licenced, certified, diploma carrying doctors who can care for us in the future. Because now, it is going to be official.

There is going to be training for Adult Congenital Cardiology. (There already is at Mayo Clinic.)

There will be an oversight group.

And there’s going to be a test – a test you have to pass before you can legally claim to be an Adult Congenital Cardiologist. (I am not sure about what the plan is for the people already working in the field, such as my doctor. Usually there will be a way for them to be “grandfathered” in – have a certain amount of experience and pass the test, and you are board certified.)

Things won’t change overnight – Adult Congenital Cardiologists will still be few and far between, at least at first. If we’re getting good care now, it probably won’t pay for us to drop everything and go running off looking for a new doctor. But for the Cardiac Kids who are growing up, there will be more and more doctors able to take care of you after you become an adult. And hopefully along with the new certification program, doctors will work on a transition program. So Pediatric Cardiologists can help their older patients move on to adult oriented care. Because I’ve visited Pediatric Cardiologists before, even when I was in my 30’s. I’ve tried to get my adult body into those tiny chairs – the ones so low that your knees are level with your eyeballs.

It’s a great day – everybody wins. But the people who will benefit the most are the Cardiac Kids who aren’t quite here yet.


Perspective

May 19, 2010

I’ve worn my Kryptonian at Heart T-Shirt several times, but I have noticed that it has gotten different reactions from different people. In case you forgot, fellow CHDer Jason saw this shirt at a comic convention and just had to have one. When I saw it, I had to get one too.

The interesting thing about this shirt is the reaction you get. I wore it one day while hanging out with a group of heart-healthy friends.

Kryptonian at Heart

There were a couple of smirks and a little laughter, and one friend asked me “Superman fan, huh?” ( I prefer Batman. With no superpowers, Batman’s primary weapon is his brain. I have one of those, too!)

But I also wore it to an informal reception held just after Lobby Day. This reception took place the night after our Lobby Day effort and was a both a celebration of the day’s events and a preview of Vision 2020. A lot of the attendees were leaving in the morning, so it was also an unofficial good-bye party.

The reaction of my fellow CHDers was amazing. “I need a shirt like that!” More than one person said. Several people asked me where I got it – no problem remembering that; the name of the company is printed on the sleeve. I even got a couple of “threats” to literally peel my shirt off of my body! (At least, I think that they were joking!)

They took a look at Superman’s S shield hiding behind the human ribs and saw what I saw. Although all our stories are slightly different, we’ve all been cut on, knocked down, knocked out, too sick to move, poked, prodded, and connected to just about every monitor that there is, yet somehow we managed to fight back. They saw not a comic book hero, but themselves.

My buddies back home still think I’m a Superman fan. That’s fine, they are great people and I couldn’t make it without their friendship. But the Cardiac Kids and the Heart Warriors that I know see that shirt and they see their own heart – the heart of a true hero.

George

May 16, 2010

My friend George spoke at the recent Lobby Day event in Washington DC. I wish all of you had been there to hear him.

Like many of us there, George has a Congenital Heart Defect (CHD). His defect is Tetralogy of Fallot (ToF) and he is a retired Pathologist from out West. That’s right – a retired Pathologist. I’m not going to insult him by listing his true age, but George worked a full career with a major heart defect.

He’s quiet and unassuming, probably the result of his years in the medical field. Pathology is a very scientific branch of Medicine; attention to detail is a must and you do not jump to conclusions. So when George stood up to speak, I wasn’t expecting what came next.

Long story short: George tore the house down! He stated that he had recently celebrated a birthday and then he said;

“I firmly believe that one day those of us with heart defects will routinely live to be eighty, ninety, and even one hundred years old.”

That did it for me right there. I’m 43 years old, but I’m 42 years, 7 months past my “expected” life expectancy. And here’s a respected member of the CHD community, a retired scientist, saying that he thinks that one day we’ll live a good long time? And might even hit the century mark? And all we have to do to start down this path is obtain funding for the Congenital Heart Futures Act? Right then, I was ready to walk down to the Capitol (Three blocks away), climb the dome, and rip that statue right off the roof!

George also has a very dry wit; he can tell a joke with such a deadpan expression that you don’t even realize he’s joking. But his humor can bite, as he proved when he recalled an exchange from his younger days.

“`When I attended medical school they taught me that people like you didn’t make it,’ a doctor told me. I didn’t know what to make of that so I didn’t say anything.”

People like you? Wait a minute… that includes me!

“A few moments later the doctor asked me `Have you thought about which medical school you would like to attend?’ I answered, `Not the one that you attended.'”

You tell ’em, George!

Five CHD Questions: Why?

May 13, 2010

Why are Congenital Heart Defects (CHDs) the least understood and the least funded of all the birth defects?

Despite being the birth defect with the highest rate of incidence, Congenital Heart Defects receive the least funding for research. One would think that this would be the target of massive funding, intense awareness campaigns, and major research allocations, but that is not so. In fact, it is one of the lowest.

CHDs is an “invisible disability” – we hide in plain sight. Other disabilities and illnesses have obvious signs, but the average CHDer can usually blend into a crowd with little trouble. Most of the time this is a good thing; I personally don’t prefer to stand out. One thing I write about on this blog and occasionally mention in a presentation is look at me – see how normal I am! But that also works against us as we can become lost in the shuffle.

When I was born there was no such thing as pre-natal testing; I was born on a Tuesday but it was Friday before my mother realized that there was probably something seriously wrong with me. Even today, a Fetal Echocardiogram is not standard procedure: an expectant mother normally receives this test only if her family has a history of heart defects or other factors come into play.

Despite what you may hear or read on the internet, CHDs are more survivable today than at any time in the past. A minimum of 90% of all children in the United States who undergo heart surgery survive to adulthood. And every year, the odds tilt more and more in our favor. There are currently about one million adults living with a Heart Defect and about 800,000 children.

With almost two million people living with a CHD, we’ve become our own little world. Survivors represent every gender, every race, and every age group. This diversity has led to advocacy groups of all types, such as the Adult Congenital Heart Association (ACHA), Hypoplastic Right Hearts (HRH), and Broken Hearts of the Big Bend. Every Survivor/Advocacy group serves a segment of our community and each one fills a need.

The members of the Congenital Heart Defect community are many and varied. But the one thing all segments of the CHD family needs is more awareness and better research. Because the goal of every Survivor/Advocacy group is to cease operations  because there is no need for their services anymore.

We’ll get there one day;

Five CHD Questions: When?

May 12, 2010

When are Congenital Heart Defect (CHD) survivors at their most vulnerable?

There are two schools of thinking in the CHD world. For lack of a better term, we’ll call these two philosophies “Old School” and “New School”.

The Old School is what Cardiologists used to tell CHDers and their parents: Now that the child has his/her surgical correction(s), they are “fixed”! Certainly, they may be a step slower, not be able to do as much, can’t play as hard as the other kids, but their defective heart has been repaired and they are set for life. All is well that ends well!

New School is the reality: As time passed as the early survivors began to grow into adults, they started having problems related to their deformed hearts. Finally it was realized that just maybe that original repair wasn’t permanent, and some of the old problems were coming back. So now, New School Cardiologists tell their patients that while they are repaired, a CHDer needs lifelong care by a specialized Cardiologist to make sure that those problems stay under control.

Be warned, the Old School of thought still exists, despite all the evidence to the contrary. Old School thinking exists on several levels – not only does it include the fallacy of “once repaired, totally repaired”, there is also a segment of the population who think Heart Defect = Death Sentence. Such thinking is toxic and you do not need this in your life: The best thing you can do if you should run into someone with an Old School mindset is to RUN!

The most dangerous time for a CHDer is when he/she begins to transition away from their Pediatric Cardiologist to an Adult Cardiologist. Most Adult Cardiologist deal with Acquired Heart Disease, not Adult Congenital Heart Defects (ACHD). Acquired Heart Disease are heart problems caused by diet, clogged arteries, hardening of the arteries, high cholesterol, and the natural aging of the heart. Someone with a Congenital Heart Defect will not have these problems, or they will manifest themselves differently in our bodies. So we need someone experienced with caring for Adult Congenital Cardiac patients – an ACHD doctor.

The problem is, there are currently very few ACHD doctors available. In an interview recently posted on Adventures of a Funky Heart!, Dr. Michael McConnell gave an example: There are about fifty Pediatric Cardiology practicing in the city of Atlanta, Georgia, but only two part time ACHD Doctors.

ACHD doctors can be found, though it may take some searching. The Adult Congenital Heart Association (ACHA) offers an ACHD Clinic directory for the United States and Canada on their website. (ACHA Membership is free). ACHA is also pursuing Vision 2020, a proposed blueprint for Adult Cardiological Care in the 21st Century.

Vision 2020 builds on the Bethesda 32 Report produced by the American College of Cardiology. Bethesda 32 was produced in 2000 and addresses the issue of Adult Cardiological Care. (The name is derived from the 32nd meeting of the American College of Cardiology’s yearly focus group held in Bethesda, Maryland.  The group studies a different issue each year.)

The Bethesda 32 Report divides the known heart defects into three groups – “Mild”, “Moderate”, and “Severe” and recommends the proper level of care needed for each group. While someone with a “mild” heart defect – a very small unrepaired Atrial Septal Defect (ASD), for example – can usually be cared for by the general medical community with yearly ACHD checkups, someone with a “Severe” defect (my Tricuspid Atresia, for example) needs to be seen in at an ACHD Clinic regularly. Severe CHD patients should also consult with their home clinic before undergoing most medical procedures, getting pregnant, etc.

There is a good outline of the Bethesda 32 Report HERE; you can read the report online by clicking THIS LINK. Click “Print a PDF” from that page to print out a copy of the Report. Be prepared; it is over 60 pages long.

Having a copy (or several) of Bethesda 32 can come in handy when/if your insurance company balks at providing coverage for an out-of-network doctor. The report can be used to show established medical guidelines saying that you need to be seen by a specialist.

The profile of the “average” Heart Defect Survivor is changing, as there are currently more adult survivors than there are children. Congenital Cardiac Care is slowly changing to reflect this.

The 2010 Bolder Boulder

May 6, 2010

An open letter to my Funky Heart friends in Colorado:

Hello from South Carolina!

I was privileged to hang out with all of you for a few days in Boulder last year during the Bolder Boulder. I had a terrific time; your state is beautiful and each and every one of you made me feel welcome!

Ever since I boarded the plane to come home, I’ve been thinking about coming back.  But I won’t be able to this year: On the day of the race, we’ll be celebrating my father’s 75th birthday!

Now dad’s in pretty good shape – he walks five miles every morning and I’m convinced that once he got used to the thinner altitude, he would do quite well in the Bolder Boulder! And what better birthday present to give yourself than to conquer the nation’s highest altitude 10K road race? But much to my disappointment, he’s certain that the walking trail in our back yard is just as good a course as the one you have!

So while I won’t be there in person, I will be there in spirit. Best of luck to all the Funky Hearts in this year’s Bolder Boulder!