(Utica, NY – Dec. 2012) Newborn Heart Defects Screening Awareness Day is a great time to draw attention to a non-invasive screening test that helps identify newborns at risk for heart defects and potentially saves their lives.

“Small hearts can sometimes conceal big challenges, especially when it comes to congenital heart defects,” said Jennifer Carbone Zuccaro, MD, pediatric cardiologist and President-elect of the American Heart Association advisory board in Utica. “The arrival of a new baby to a family is usually a time of anticipation and excitement.  However, some babies come into the world with congenital heart defects. We could potentially save these tiny lives by passing legislation to screen newborns for heart defects before being discharged from the hospital.”

The simple, low-cost test, pulse oximetry, or pulse ox, consists of sensors placed on a baby’s hand and foot to check low blood oxygen levels – a significant indicator of heart issues in babies.

If their levels are too low, additional tests are conducted to detect critical or possibly life-threatening heart defects that might otherwise be missed. With congenital heart defects considered to be the leading cause of birth-defect related deaths in the U.S., new research suggests wider use of pulse ox screening could help identify more than 90 percent of heart defects.

U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius has suggested that critical congenital heart defects screening be added to the “Recommended Uniform Screening Panel” for newborns before they are released from a hospital or birthing facility.

New Jersey, Maryland, New Hampshire and Indiana have all recently passed laws requiring newborns to have this simple screening prior to being discharged from the hospital. In New Jersey, just hours after their law took effect, a newborn’s life was saved.  With legislation, we can do the same in New York.

“One life lost is one too many, especially when we have simple proven methods to detect for potentially fatal conditions,” Zuccaro said. “Legislation to ensure pulse oximetry screening for newborns before being discharged from the hospital will help give our little ones a healthy start in life.”

Legislation (S6726) sponsored by state Sen. Bill Larkin, R-Cornwall-on-Hudson, to ensure all birthing facilities conduct newborn screenings passed the Senate in the past session.  The American Heart Association is calling for passage of the bill in the upcoming session.

By martha

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