Heart Screening for Newborns Saves Lives

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RENO, Nev. -- Even if a newborn looks healthy, some medical conditions can't be seen by the naked eye. They're screened for all kinds of things like blood and hearing tests, but you may be surprised that it's not required by law to give them a certain heart screening.

Congenital Heart Disease is the most common cause of infant deaths, and sometimes the heart defects aren't detected until it's too late. For Maddie Hodges, the screening saved her life.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 4,800 infants are born each year with CCHD.

Like any new parent, JW and Kim Hodges have a thousand things to worry about, but they never expected to have a problem just a half hour after their daughter, Maddie was born.

"It's shock at first because you know all the things you were worried about 30 minutes prior to that seems so insignificant compared to what you're faced with now," JW, Maddie's father said. "Her heart was racing so fast they couldn't count the beats and even when they put her on a monitor it couldn't count the beats."

Maddie was diagnosed with Wolff-Parkinson's White Syndrome, a condition that causes fast heartbeats that could lead to serious heart problems in the future. Luckily, it was caught early and with proper medication, she can now live life like a normal three-year-old.

"Even though the baby maybe is examined very closely, there are some serious defects that can be mixed and if we add these couple steps, generally we wouldn't miss them," Dr. Joseph Ludwick, Children's Heart Center of Nevada said.

CCHD can be detected using a non-invasive and painless method called pulse oximetry. Sensors are wrapped around your newborn's finger or foot, like a band-aid, to test their pulse and oxygen level in their blood.

"Sometimes kids are born and the parents don't know they have it and sometimes they find out when they get into school," Hodges said. "Knowing what my child has and knowing what we have to deal with and being able to treat that preemptively rather than getting that phone call to go to the emergency room because we don't know what's going on, it's a much better way to live."

Infants with Congenital Heart Disease are at a high risk for disabilities or even death if their condition isn't diagnosed right after birth. Dr. Ludwig says a vast majority of heart defects are flexible.

Maddie is healthy and in a few years, she will get heart surgery that will hopefully take her off medication completely.

The Critical Congenital Heart Defect Screening Bill or SB92 is currently being reviewed by the Senate Finance Committee and will take up to five weeks before it can be passed.