Sarah Woolf-King’s son Charlie was born with holes in his heart that required open-heart surgery when he was just 9 weeks old.
The terrifying experience created stress, anxiety and isolation that sent the clinical psychologist online to message boards and Facebook groups looking to connect with other moms dealing with similar circumstances.
Researchers who reviewed published data from 10 countries found that up to 30 percent of parents of children with critical congenital heart defects had symptoms of PTSD and more than 80 percent had significant symptoms of trauma.
Another 25 percent to 50 percent reported elevated symptoms of depression, anxiety or both, and 30 percent to 80 percent reported experiencing severe psychological distress.
In comparison, the prevalence of PTSD in the U.S. general population is 3.5 percent, with 18 percent meeting criteria for any anxiety disorder in the last year, and 9.5 percent meeting criteria for any mood disorder.
Researchers also found that mothers are disproportionately affected.
Researchers said the study is a first step to draw more attention to this overlooked group of parents whose mental health is often taxed by coping with their children’s medical appointments, cardiac procedures, long hospital stays, digestive or feeding issues and increased risk for major respiratory illnesses — all of which amount to extensive financial, emotional and familial costs.
If untreated, the problems can adversely affect parents and their ability to care for their children months, or even years, after surgery.
Congenital heart defects are the most common birth defects in the United States, affecting nearly 40,000 births each year. Of these children, 25 percent have critical congenital heart defects that require one or more cardiac surgeries in the first year of life, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
She found she wasn’t alone.
“Over and over I’d read these stories of moms posting things that were similar to my own experience, describing what I knew…
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