Health Beat: New test to save newborn hearts

Health Beat: New test to save newborn hearts

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. - Thirty percent of infant deaths in the United States are because of congenital heart defects. A test for newborns can help detect deadly heart problems, but it's not being done in all hospitals.

Tania Rocchio said she holds her newborn John Carlo tight after she found out he passed his test. Dr. Robert Koppel performed a pulse-oximetry test, which screens for deadly heart problems in newborns.

A light source and sensor measures the blood oxygen levels. A healthy saturation is 96 percent or greater. Koppel said John Carlo should have a healthy heart.

"We can't be absolutely certain that the baby doesn't have an underlying potentially lethal problem, but now we know it is far less likely than we did a generation ago," said Koppel, medical director, Regional Perinatal Center, Cohen Children's Medical Center of New York, and associate professor of pediatrics at Hofstra North Shore - LIJ School of Medicine.

Now, John Carlo's mom, who said she has heart problems in her family, has more peace of mind. It's only mandatory in some states.

There is some fear it can also lead to false positive results that are costly and stressful for the family, but a study out of Britain showed a false positive rate of one in 3,000 cases. Koppel said he believes early detection outweighs any negatives.

"Treatment is so effective at saving lives," Koppel said.

Studies show one in six babies who dies from critical congenital heart disease is an underdiagnosed and unrecognized case.  An estimated 1,200 babies a year could be diagnosed sooner and infant deaths could be prevented if the pulse oximetry was routinely used.

For hospitals that do have the pulse oximetry machine, the only additional cost is for use of the probe, which is about one dollar per reusable probe or seven to eight dollars for a single-use probe.

DOWNLOAD and VIEW research summary

DOWNLOAD and VIEW the full-length interview with Dr. Robert Koppel about a new test to save newborn hearts

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