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The story of a child diagnosed with a serious heart defect just days after birth

Charlie Helvey, now 4, shares his story to raise awareness about congenital heart disease

RIGA, Mich. — February is heart month. 

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. and congenital heart defects are the most common birth defects.

One in every 110 babies is born with congenital heart disease, including 4-year-old Charlie Helvey. In his short life so far, he's already been through more than many people 10 times his age.

Charlie was born Dec. 16, 2017. He is the second child to his mother, Emma. Shortly after coming home from the hospital, Charlie started breathing rapidly.

"We took him to the ER, it was during cold and flu season they were assuming it was viral at that time," Emma said. "We brought him home from the hospital, thought we had a healthy normal child, nine days later he started going into heart failure."

Emma said a doctor noticed what sounded like a murmur in Charlie's heart. It turned out Charlie had a heart gallop caused by fluid surrounding his walnut-sized heart.

"From there they went and did the echocardiogram and determined he had a complex, congenital heart defect," Emma said.

That's when doctors said it was time to make the move from northwest Ohio to C.S. Mott Children's Hospital in Ann Arbor. Doctors there found the newborn had a Hypoplastic Aortic Arch, meaning part of his heart was blocked. They also found an atrial septal defect. Charlie would need life-saving surgery.

Credit: WTOL

Emma said it all happened so fast.

"This was an emergency situation, there was clearly something wrong, we found out this was a heart defect, I don't think we had a whole lot of time to realize what was happening, we were kind of in shock."

Surgeons used GORE-TEX to repair the hole and cadaver skin to fix the arch. And Charlie could still face additional surgeries as he grows.

Credit: WTOL

You wouldn't know Charlie went through all that just a short time after his birth. His family doesn't shy away from making sure he knows.

"We're open about talking to him about it, we tell him how brave he is and how he's our heart warrior," Emma said.

Now, Charlie and his family make it a point to give back to others going through the same challenges.

"We give them the vibrating bears and it makes them happy and that makes them happy because they can bring them home," Charlie said.

You can find more information on CHD and how to help by visiting the American Heart Association's website.

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