Shedding light on newborn heart problems

FRESNO, Calif.

It results in more deaths in the first year of life than any other birth defect, but it's easily overlooked. Now, a simple test could spot the problem sooner and help newborns get life-saving treatment.

The simple joys of a newborn! First-time mom Colleen Rugnier knows there's nothing like these moments. Baby Everett isn't even two days old, but he's already had dozens of tests to make sure he's healthy.

"He's pretty easy-going. I'm impressed," Collen said.

About one in 120 babies is born with congenital heart disease. About 25 percent will have a critical defect that requires urgent treatment, but these problems are hard to spot.

"The challenge is usually in a newborn nursery setting, these babies look completely normal," Alex Kemper, M.D., Associate professor of pediatrics at Duke University told Action News.

Now a test called pulse oximetry is helping doctors catch defects sooner. Pediatrician Alex Kemper recommends all hospitals offer it. The test is simple: nurses attach probes to Everett's right hand and foot. Then a machine measures oxygen levels in his blood.

A study of more than 20,000 newborns found when the test was used along with standard scans and exams, 92-percent of critical congenital heart defects were detected and not one baby died because of a heart problem. The test also had a false-positive rate of less than one-percent. Everett passes with flying colors.

"It's reassuring because it's such a simple, noninvasive test, so you know, why not?" Collen said.

Now, she can keep enjoying these moments knowing the heart of the boy who stole her heart is healthy.

If a baby fails the pulse oximetry, he will have to undergo further cardiac testing. The test can also detect other problems like pneumonia and infection. Right now legislation has passed to mandate pulse oximetry in about six states, but many others have introduced legislation or have pending legislation.

For more information, contact:
Mary Jane Gore
Sr. Media Relations Specialist
Duke Medicine News and Communications
(919) 660-1309

Copyright © 2021 KFSN-TV. All Rights Reserved.