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Test May Save an Infant's Life

Is it available in Pa?

Heart defects cause percent of infant deaths in the U.S. A test for newborns, which can help detect deadly heart problems.  This year, the Pennsylvania Department of Health mandated the test for all infants.  Here's how it works.

Tania Rocchio says 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. Dr. Koppel says 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," Robert Koppel, MD, 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 said.

Now, John Carlo's mom, who says 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.

Dr. Koppel believes early detection outweighs any negatives.

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

Studies show one in six babies who die from critical congenital heart disease are underdiagnosed and unrecognized cases.  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.

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