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While hearts on a valentine or made of chocolate might be the first thing that comes to mind in February, it is also American Heart Month — as in the heart that keeps us alive. There are 344,000 Missourians living with coronary heart disease. This is the most common form of heart disease in adults and is oftentimes extremely preventable. But another heart issue that affects the youngest Missourians is congenital heart disease, or CHD.

Congenital heart disease is the leading cause of infant deaths every year in the United States. It is also responsible for the most common birth defect found in newborns. Each year, one in 100 babies is born with a congenital heart defect, and twice as many lives are taken by CHD than by all forms of pediatric cancer combined. These terribly sad truths make it critical that we fight for more medical advancements to protect our state's children.

I've learned about this disease from a member of my staff who deals with CHD every day. At a routine checkup for his 2-year-old son, Peter, the doctor found a heart murmur. One of the most frightening things parents can hear is that their little boy needs open heart surgery. Gladly willing and praying to God to let one of them take their son's place, the only thing they could do was make him comfortable, stay positive and wait. There was a complication with the surgery, and Peter's heart was dependent on a temporary pacemaker for five whole days. Thankfully, doctors were able to resolve the problem, and Peter is now a happy, healthy soon to be 3-year-old.

Unfortunately, not every family is so lucky. When children are born with heart defects, there are not always warning symptoms, making it very difficult for doctors to detect it in time. This coming week is Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Week. While modern medicine saved Peter's life and is improving by the day, there is always room to explore more effective treatments and surgeries. I was proud to work with the Labor-Health and Human Services Subcommittee to secure $6 million for the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's congenital heart program in the government funding bill that became law this past December.

I'm extremely hopeful that in the coming years we'll see even more babies and children overcoming CHD and living the full lives we, as parents, always pray for.

U.S. Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-Mo., shares his perspective each week on national issues, including ones that affect Missouri. He represents the state's 3rd District, which includes Jefferson City. His local office can be reached at 635-7232.

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