Mending Broken Hearts

Support for families affected by congenital heart defects.

Did you know that one out of every 100 babies born in the United States has some type of congenital heart defect (CHD)? Through ongoing research, at least 35 defects have been identified. These defects range in severity from tiny holes in the heart that can just be monitored to complex defects that often require numerous lifesaving open heart surgeries. Some defects are so complex that the only option is a heart transplant.

According to the March of Dimes, congenital heart defects are the leading cause of birth defect-related deaths, yet little money is directed towards CHD research. In some cases, parents do not know about their child’s CHD until it is too late. That is why It’s My Heart is crucial. The sole focus of this organization is to support and advocate for people affected by CHDs. The New Jersey Chapter takes this mission one step further by raising money for CHD research. While there is no cure for CHDs, there is hope.
Here in New Jersey, a group of volunteers devote their time, effort and hearts to local families affected by CHDs. The New Jersey Chapter of It’s My Heart has been offering such support to families since 2007. One means of doing this is by delivering comfort bags to families in four area hospitals. The recipients of the bags are families that have a child who is about to undergo open heart surgery. Each bag contains snacks, tissues, hand sanitizer, a coloring book, crayons, literature and other items to make a hospital stay more pleasant.

Another way that volunteers in New Jersey reach out to families is by hosting monthly support group meetings. Participating in a support group often helps a family newly facing a CHD diagnosis more than anything else can. Support group sessions occur on the second Thursday of every month at the IMUS Center at Hackensack University Hospital. Along with sharing their concerns, families coping with a CHD diagnosis, as well as It’s My Heart officers and volunteers, gather in the second floor conference room to discuss upcoming events, stuff comfort bags and listen to guest speakers. Speakers address various subjects related to CHDs, such as nutrition and activity levels.

The New Jersey Chapter of It’s My Heart runs an annual awareness walk, a beefsteak dinner and other events to raise money, spread awareness and fund research for CHDs. The events additionally allow CHD families to convene and enjoy programming together.

It’s My Heart-New Jersey Chapter is part of a national group of volunteers comprised of people affected by CHDs. Volunteers include nurses, friends, grandparents and parents of CHD patients. Likewise, the president of the New Jersey Chapter, Kim Shadek, has a son who was born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome. Assisted by nine officers and countless volunteers, Shadek spends every day devoted to improving the lives of families affected by CHDs.

The work of It’s My Heart-New Jersey Chapter is never done. Volunteers are always needed. While many of the current volunteers are directly affected by a CHD, some are not, and volunteers welcome everyone to come out and support CHD families in the area.

It’s My Heart is not only looking for volunteers, the organization is looking for new families to support. If you are looking to volunteer, or if you or someone you know needs support, contact It’s My Heart-New Jersey Chapter at P.O. Box 207, Bloomingdale, NJ 07403. You may also dial (973)291-4767 or e-mail newjersey@itsmyheart.org to connect with the organization. For information on the National Chapter of It’s My Heart, log onto www.itsmyheart.org.