Mississippi's tiniest hearts are about to be better protected

JACKSON, MS (WDAM) - This is a news release from The American Heart Association

Mississippi's tiniest hearts will have a greater chance of beating stronger going forward. The Mississippi State Department of Health recently included pulse oximetry (pulse ox) screening as a requirement for all the state's birthing centers as part of its newborn screening panel regulations.

State Health Officer Dr. Mary Currier says this addition is important in our genetic screening process.

"We are very pleased to have added Critical Congenital Heart Defects (CCHD) screening to the list of required screenings for newborns in Mississippi. Screening for CCHD prior to discharge from the hospital will allow those affected babies to be cared for before they have symptoms from their heart defects."

The American Heart Association, along with advocates and volunteers from across the state, have been working to have pulse oximetry screening added to the newborn screening panel for babies born in Mississippi for several years.

Pulse oximetry screening of newborns can detect congenital heart defects, the number one killer of infants with birth defects.1

"This is wonderful news," said Dr. Mary Taylor, Division Chief of Pediatric Cardiology & Critical Care and Co-Director of the Congenital Heart Program at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. "Pulse ox screening will certainly saves lives. Infants in our state who are born with congenital heart defects will be recognized sooner and get the urgent care that they need. It will truly be life-saving."

Current detection methods miss more than 50% of all newborn cases of congenital heart defects.2 Those methods of detection generally include prenatal ultrasound screening and repeated clinical examinations which can identify many affected newborns. However, these screenings alone still only identify less than half of all cases and critical heart defect cases are often missed during routine clinical exams performed prior to a newborn's discharge from a birthing facility.

"On my husband's side of the family, our nephew died from an undetected congenital heart defect," Claire Hick, AHA volunteer from Hernando, Miss. explained. "As a new mom, it gives me peace of mind to know that the American Heart Association has worked to protect my child against the most common type of heart defect that can be treated when caught early."

Pulse oximetry screening is a non-invasive test that estimates the percentage of hemoglobin in blood that is saturated with oxygen. The test is simple, merely wrapping the small Band-Aid like oxygen sensor around the baby's toe or foot. When performed on newborns in the delivery center it is effective at detecting life-threating defects which otherwise can go undetected by current screening methods.3

American Heart Association staffer Amy Bass of Petal knows about congenital heart defects first hand. After a difficult pregnancy in 2004, her daughter Abby was born a seemingly perfectly healthy little girl. It wasn't until the next morning that the doctors informed her that Abby had the congenital heart defect coarctation of the aorta. Results of a pulse ox test had raised a red flag and spurred additional testing which determined the diagnosis.

Doctors performed open heart surgery on Abby when she was just four days old and then another at 18 months old. Today Abby is a healthy, happy thriving eleven year old.

"Abby is a walking miracle," said Bass. "Had she not received a pulse ox test her CHD could have gone undiagnosed, which might have been fatal for her. It is so reassuring to know that parents across our state won't have to endure the tragedy of undiagnosed heart defects that result in the loss of a life. Pulse ox testing is going to save so many lives."

What's more, pulse oximetry screening is cost effective and could drastically cut healthcare costs. One study calculated that the savings in healthcare costs from the prevention of one case of complications of circulatory collapse resulting from an undiagnosed congenital heart defect may exceed the cost of screening two thousand newborns.4

In 2011, the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services recommended that pulse oximetry screening be included as part of the Recommended Screening Panel for Newborns.5

To learn more about pulse oximetry screening, visit www.yourethecure.org.