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New testing helps detect heart defects in newborns

By The Associated Press

This article was published February 1, 2013 at 1:07 p.m.

— Newborns are being tested for heart defects under a new law in Tennessee.

The inexpensive and noninvasive test measures the saturation level of oxygen in an infant's blood. A low level can indicate one of seven heart abnormalities.

Le Bonheur Children's Hospital cardiologist Dr. Jean Ballweg calls the law "parent-driven legislation" and told The Commercial Appeal it reduces the risk of newborns being sent home from hospitals with undetected critical health problems.

The legislation is welcome to Holly and Michael Goughnour of Memphis, whose first child died 17 days after his birth of an undetected rare birth defect in 2002. Grant Michael Goughnour had truncus arteriosus and no one knew it until he began struggling to breathe and his parents made a frantic dash to an emergency room.

"He died in my arms on the way to the hospital," Holly Goughnour said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate congenital heart diseases cause 30 percent of infant deaths that come from birth defects. The CDC estimates some 300 babies are sent home yearly with undetected critical congenital heart defects.

The Tennessee Department of Health estimates 85 to 95 of the 80,000 to 90,000 babies born in this state have critical heart defects.

As of January, the screening is being done in Tennessee. Advocates for it include the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Heart Association and an advisory committee to U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius.

The test is normally done 24 to 48 hours after birth, or just before discharge.

Babies with 97-100 percent saturation are sent home. Those in the 90-96 percent range are further screened with a probe on the right hand and could still be cleared for discharge. Below that level, the infants are further evaluated to see why their oxygen level is low.

"We found out in an autopsy," Holly Goughnour said. "No family should ever have to find out that way."

The Goughnours have had three healthy children since Grant died.

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GWayne says... February 1, 2013 at 9:17 p.m.

How wonderful! As a parent who's child was not diagnosed until 9 months with a mumur,then to find it was a heart defect that had to have surgery, I say it's much needed!

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