Published Tuesday, June 21, 2011 in Close-Up
Harvey raising awareness about pulse ox screenings
Melissa Harvey of Newnan hopes that Georgia will join the states of Maryland and New Jersey in requiring pulse oximetry (pulse ox) screenings for newborns.
Harvey's daughter, Olivia, was born with three congenital heart defects -- coarctation of the aorta, pulmonary stenosis and mitral stenosis -- all conditions that will impact her for life.
Pulse ox screenings, which take just seconds, can be a valuable tool in detecting heart and lung problems in infants. In Harvey's case, it was an alert nurse who noticed that Olivia wasn't breathing properly while breastfeeding.
"What we're hoping to do here in Georgia is to get the same thing passed," said Harvey, who is president of the "It's My Heart" chapter in Atlanta. It's My Heart works to support parents of children with congenital heart defects.
Harvey says that other states have pending legislation regarding pulse ox screening, and others have pilot programs in place.
Dr. Matt Oster, a pediatric cardiologist at Children's Health Care of Atlanta, explains that pulse ox is used to "measure the degree of oxygen saturation" in the red blood cells.
"It should be close to 100 percent," said Dr. Oster about the measurement.
According to Oster, there are two reasons for a low reading. The first is a lung infection or problem, and the second is a heart defect preventing the blood from reaching the lungs for oxygenation.
Oster said that many children with heart defects exhibit no symptoms and appear healthy at first. "Then they go home," he said. Having this simple screening can help "avoid kids getting into trouble."
The pulse ox test is non-invasive, and involves equipment hospitals have readily available.
The U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary's Committee on Heritable Disorders in Newborns and Children recently recommended screening of newborns for Critical Congenital Heart Disease (CCHD) using pulse ox.
Oster said he would definitely support any proposed legislation to mandate pulse oximetry and says it would place Georgia "ahead of the curve."
"It's not expensive at all," noted Harvey. The screening meter is placed on the infant's foot with a reading available in two seconds.
According to the Children's Heart Foundation, approximately 4,000 babies do not live to see their first birthdays due to congenital heart defects annually. Nearly twice the number of children die from congenital heart defects in the United States each year as from all forms of childhood cancers combined.
For more information on the pulse ox campaign, go to http://pulseoxadvocacy.com or e-mail Harvey at Melissa.firstname.lastname@example.org
Harvey has already contacted a state representative who is researching the issue in detail.
In Georgia, it is required by law for newborns to undergo a blood test screening for a number of genetic and metabolic disorders. Hearing tests are also conducted routinely for most babies born in Georgia.
At six months of age, Olivia Harvey began receiving care at the Children's Healthcare of Atlanta (CHOA) Sibley Heart Center. In June 2003, she underwent a cardiac catherization to treat the coarctation, or narrowing, of her aorta and pulmonary stenosis, a condition in which a narrowed pulmonary value restricts blood flow to the lungs. Her heart did not respond to the procedure, and she remained in the Children's Michael P. Fisher Cardiac Intensive Care Unit (CICU) while waiting for open-heart surgery.
A week later, Olivia underwent a successful surgery to remove her pulmonary valve and repair the coarctation of her aorta. She remained in the hospital for two-weeks to recover. She continues to receive routine check-ups to monitor her mitral stenosis and evaluate the need for a pulmonary valve replacement surgery.
Melissa Harvey said that she feels fortunate to have had the expertise of CHOA so close to home. "It was very scary," she said. "They were my support system."
To support other families who undergoing similar experiences, Melissa co-chairs Heart Friends, a group composed primarily of families who have children treated at the Children's Sibley Heart Center.
For Olivia Harvey, early detection was key in her longterm health, and that's why her mother is taking up the pulse oximetry campaign. "So many babies are dying," she said.