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Each year, 40,000 babies in the United States are born with a congenital heart defect. Four thousand of these babies do not live to see their first birthday. But one Owenton man says there’s always hope.
“I’m living proof of hope,” 46-year-old Jerry Smith said.
Smith was born with Tetralogy of Fallot, a CHD that can cause poor development, failure to gain weight, passing out and sudden death.
“As a child I was brought home and the doctors told my parents to be good to me and not let me go outside too much,” Smith said. “I would run about 100 feet and pass out. I just didn’t have any energy, no stamina.”
When he was 16, Smith underwent open heart surgery, and then had another surgery at 32.
“After I healed from the second surgery, the doctors released me to go to work,” Smith said. “My condition is very good now.”
Smith said sometimes he is still short of breath, but he watches what he eats and goes to the doctor for regular checkups.
“Growing up, I never really understood what was going on,” Smith said. “I would look at kids playing outside and wonder why I couldn’t do any of the things they were doing. It’s the small kids that really suffer from this kind of thing. Parents really need to be able to explain to their kids what’s going on and why they can’t do the things other kids are doing. It is what it is, but there’s always hope for them.”
Smith and his wife, Sherry, have two sons, Matthew and Kyle.
“Neither one of them were born with a CHD,” Smith said. “They’re both very healthy.”
Smith will join dozens of other CHD survivors — and the families and friends of those who have lost a loved one to a CHD — for the sixth annual CHD Awareness Walk from noon to 7 p.m. Feb. 19 at the Owenton First Baptist Church fellowship hall.
Smith said that many people aren’t aware of congenital heart defects, and the CHD awareness walk provides an excellent opportunity to learn more.
“It’s really for everyone’s own benefit,” Smith said. “It lets people know how these kids are affected. All of these kids and their family members need support and the community needs to let them know that they’re there for them.”
The event is organized by God’s Special Little Hearts Inc. Chairperson Katie Columbia said there are several ways to donate to this year’s event.
“We are holding the ‘Change Drive’ at the elementary, primary and middle schools beginning next Monday, Feb. 7th, and going through the 18th,” Columbia said. “Businesses will also be selling the $1-hearts all through February, where patrons will put their name on them and display them in the store. If anyone wants to make a donation, they can also mail a check to Meg Fitzgerald, Treasurer, 1160 Stewart Lane, Sparta KY 41086. Donations will be accepted through the month of February for the walk.”
For more information on CHDs, on the annual CHD Awareness Walk, and on ways to donate, visit www.godsspecialhearts.org.