FAIR LAWN, N.J. -- Each year, many new parents are startled by a diagnosis that most likely means their children in grave danger. Congenital heart defects affect nearly one in 100 children born in the United States, according to the CDC, and they are the most common type of birth defect.
Fair Lawn has joined the ranks of the communities across the country trying to increase awareness, and Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Week is this Tuesday through next Tuesday.
The week is held from Feb. 7-14 each year, "to promote awareness and education about congenital heart defects," the CDC says. "Heart defects are costly and critical conditions that persons live with throughout their lives."
Fair Lawn Mayor John Cosgrove read a proclamation declaring the week of awareness at the borough's Jan. 24 council meeting. He also recognized two local kids and their families who are dealing with this issue.
One of them was Grayson Pohlman, nearly 2 years old, who had been vocally making his presence known as the mayor read the proclamation.
"We know Grayson, he's a fighter," Cosgrove said.
"We know that he's had four surgeries in his first time in life here. He's a year and a half, and he's doing great right now, as you can see," Cosgrove added, to the audience's laughter.
David Rosenblum, a Fair Lawn fourth-grader, read a statement at the meeting, discussing his own story, including the heart defect he was born with -- a large hole in his heart.
I am a CHD survivor. When I was six months old, I weighed only nine pounds, because I was not able to keep my formula down. I was a very sick baby. I am very lucky, because my heart is strong now, and I am able to play sports and do other fun things ... . But there are a lot of kids that are not as lucky as me.
David did start gaining weight, and after a year, he was able to have open-heart surgery, to close the hole in his heart. David's parents, Riesha and Steven Rosenblum, got his adoption referral soon after, Riesha told Daily Voice, and they welcomed him into their Fair Lawn home.
Riesha explained that "he's cleared, cardiac-wise. Thank God, he's one of the lucky ones."
They do still have to watch for flare-ups, and David regularly follows up with his cardiologist. He also knows his body, Riesha said. "He knows what he can do, what he can't" -- like when to take a break, when playing soccer.
"He's doing amazing. He's a strong little boy."
At the council meeting, David also said he'll be participating in the NJ Superhearts Walk, on June 4 -- "with my family and other heart warriors" -- to benefit the Children's Heart Foundation.
The Rosenblum family works to raise awareness in other ways, too. Riesha is a member of a support group on Facebook, Heart Moms of Northern NJ.
"Sometimes, people have a lot of questions or might just need to talk to someone that they can relate to," she said. "We try to help each other out."
Grayson's parents also knew about his health issues before he arrived in their home, but the circumstances were a bit different. Gabrielle and Brent Pohlman found out about Grayson's likely heart defect at a 20-week anatomy scan, she told Daily Voice.
Her son also showed up seven weeks early, and he spent his first four weeks in the neonatal intensive care unit.
"It's been a long almost two years," Gabrielle added.
Before he was even six weeks old, Grayson had his first open-heart surgery, to help him get better blood flow and prepare him for the other major repairs he would need. He's had three more open-heart surgeries since.
"When kids are born with CHDs, they are never cured," Gabrielle explained.
"Even with successful repairs, they may have issues in the future. You're just constantly watching out for things."
Grayson will probably need at least one more open-heart surgery, though perhaps 10 years down the road. Gabrielle says he's still having some issues -- "But we're able, at this point, to enjoy some normalcy."
Her family will also be participating in the upcoming walk, and Gabrielle tries to bring awareness about these issues to others.
"You have to be an advocate for your child, and learn as much as you can," she said. She recommends the Children's Heart Foundation and the Congenital Heart Defect Coalition as good resources.
"Fair Lawn has been very supportive; our family and friends have been very supportive," Gabrielle added. "We've been very lucky, to have so much support through this journey."
"So many of these little heart warriors have been through more in their first couple years of life than most people go through in a lifetime," Riesha said. "They are really so strong and teach us so much about living life to the fullest."