News and Information

Caromont offers new screen to detect certain heart defects in newborns


Naturally, every parent tries to imagine what their new little baby girl or boy will look like and who he or she will favor more—will he have blue eyes like her dad or will she have dark, curly hair like her mom? While all harmless curiosity, more begging is the question “Will my baby be healthy?” because truly that’s really what matters most.

Critical congenital heart defects (CCHD) account for 30 percent of infant deaths due to birth defects. There are seven specific heart defects that can now be detected using a simple, non-invasive tool known as Pulse Oximetry Screen.

Last year, Patty Sill, RN at CaroMont’s Birthplace attended a conference in Washington, D.C. Moved by the information she learned, Sill returned to work more passionate than ever to screen newborns using the Pulse screen. Beginning January 14, 2013 to February 14, 2013, Sill led a Quality Improvement Study to test the validity of the screen and provided staff education and training. Now standard procedure all babies born at Caromont are tested and have results within minutes.

New parents Kris and Danielle Race gave birth to their first child last month at CRMC. Both are CaroMont employees. Caedmon Race was born a few days earlier than his expected due date.

“As new parents, Kris and I were nervous about having a baby and all the unexpected surprises that can come with it,” said Danielle Race. “But, when the nurse explained the new screen for newborns, it provided additional peace knowing my baby was going to be well cared for.”

Just 48 hours after Caedmon was born his nurse took him to the nursery for his pulse screen. Minus the inconvenience of being interrupted from his nap, Caedmon fared well. And, the best news is that he tested negative for all seven heart defects.

“We were so relieved that Caedmon’s results came back negative,” said Kris Race. “Now, all we have to focus on is getting him home, and of course, that Duke wins since he’s going to have all these pictures of him in his Duke PJs to look back on when he gets older,” laughed Kris Race.

What does the Pulse Oximetry screen for?

The bedside device is used to test for seven specific heart defects by screening a newborn’s blood oxygen level and pulse rate which can indicate CCHD when levels fall below the normal rate. The painless, non-invasive screen uses sensors that are placed on the baby’s skin—typically on the heel and hand where the skin is thinnest. Pulse ox is found to be more accurate at detecting such heart conditions than a standard clinical examination, and should be used as routine assessment in all newborns before they leave the hospital. More often than not CCHD cases are missed during routine clinical exams performed prior to a newborn’s discharge from a birthing facility.

A screening is done when a baby is 24 to 48 hours of age. A positive test result (out of range) does not give a diagnosis. It only means a problem may exist and further evaluation is needed.

“With a negative screen your doctor can say with confidence that your baby is highly unlikely to have a critical birth defect of the heart,” said Kevin Coppage, MD, Pediatrix Medical Group Neonatologist and Medical Director at the Birthplace.”

In the event of a positive screen a diagnostic test will be conducted, typically an echocardiogram or ultrasound picture of the heart, to determine if an actual heart defect exists. If a CCHD is detected, highly specialized treatment under the lead of a cardiologist can prevent further complications and death early on in a baby’s life.

Legislation status

Nine states have passed legislation requiring CCHD screening for newborns, including, New Jersey, Indiana, Maryland, Tennessee, West Virginia, California, New Hampshire, Virginia, and Connecticut. According to the American Heart Association’s website, is estimated that 8.9% of newborns in the U.S. are currently being screened for CCHD using pulse ox, but numbers are expected to increase into the double digits in 2013.