Saving newborns with a simple test

5:37 PM, Nov 19, 2012   |    comments
Two-week-old Ava wears a wrist strap that helps detect potentially deadly heart defects. The test takes only two minutes and is painless.
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Tallahassee, Florida - Congenital heart defects are the number one killer of babies born with defects.

Fortunately, there's a test that can catch these heart problems before a newborn leaves the hospital, but too many hospitals across Florida are not using it.

On Monday, the American Heart Association demonstrated the heart screening, called a Pulse Oximetry Screening, on a couple of two-week-old babies to show how easy it is to perform. The group is pushing proposed legislation that would require all hospitals to administer the screening on newborns.

Alyssa Brown's daughter was born with congenital heart defects. Brown says the test is cheap, fast, painless and can save lives.

"Undetected heart defects can lead, at best, to avoidable health complications and expenses and, at worst, to death. Pulse Oximetry Screening can help to detect an additional 30 percent of critical congenital heart defects cases."

Brown says without the test, a newborn is up to five times more likely to go home, presumably healthy, but with an undetected heart defect that could be deadly.

Pediatric Cardiologist Dr. Louis St. Petery has seen babies leave the hospital in apparently good health but then within a few days take a serious turn for the worse because of a congenital heart defect.

"Kids with those small percentages will frequently come back to the hospital a few days after discharge and they'll be dead or they'll be at near death because they have the kind of defect where if certain changes occur after birth, which are normal, they lose all oxygen supply to their body."

Dr. St. Petery says the test has just recently come to light as a great way to find undetectable heart problems. He says some hospitals already use it, but he wants all newborn nurseries to do the screening.

St. Petery says the test costs just pennies and if a newborn returns to the hospital because of complications from a heart defect, the cost is much higher.

"Thousands of dollars, and if the baby dies, what's the cost to that family? And if the baby is brain-damaged, what's the cost to that family and to society? It's so simple it's crazy not to do it."

The bill was introduced in the last legislative session but didn't go anywhere. Sen. Jeremy Ring will sponsor the bill in next year's legislative session.

Dave Heller