Did you know that heart abnormalities are the most common birth defect? I didn't, until a few weeks ago. A Facebook friend posted a link to the Cora's Story blog and I casually clicked over to see what it was about. Cora died suddenly in her mama's arms at just 5 days old from an undetected congenital heart defect (CHD). I can't imagine suffering such a devastating loss, and I thank my lucky stars for my kids' healthy hearts. But Cora's mother Kristine has turned her pain into a wonderful mission in her daughter's name: to raise awareness about CHD and how easily it can be detected. With Kristine and Cora's help, hopefully more CHDs will be caught and treated early, saving babies' and children's lives.
Another fact I learned from Cora is how easily many CHDs can be detected. A simple pulse oximetry test (aka "pulse ox") done 24-48 hours after birth in conjunction with a newborn exam can detect a large proportion of CHDs, with a low false-positive rate. A pulse ox test is noninvasive and very simple: the reader is typically attached to the baby's toe and determines the oxygen saturation of the blood. An abnormal reading (typically below 95) is indicative of a problem. The research on pulse ox screening bears out the effectiveness of pulse ox screening tests for newborns.*
So why hasn't pulse ox testing become routine for all newborns? As I mentioned, the test is completely non-invasive and hospitals already have the equipment. Portable pulse ox readers are also available, which means both birth center and homebirth midwives could also easily carry them. Kristine is working on Cora's behalf to get laws passed nationwide mandating a pulse ox to be done on every newborn. I applaud her efforts and admire her strength at turning her pain into an effort to save lives.
What can YOU do? Request this test for your own babies and tell the pregnant moms in your life to request it when their babies are born. Pass this information on, and tell others to pass it on too. Write your Congressman and your state representatives and tell them you want pulse ox testing to be mandatory for all newborns. You might just save a baby's life.
*More information and research:
Medscape Medical News
British Medical Journal
University of Michigan
Medical News Today