Published Tuesday, January 17, 2012 in Local
Georgia lawmakers to take close look at pulse ox screenings for newborns
The Newnan Times-HeraldThis legislative session, Georgia lawmakers will consider a bill to launch a pilot study on pulse oximetry (pulse ox) testing for all newborns. The test is non-invasive and supporters say it can be a valuable tool in detecting heart defects, or serious infection.
Melissa Harvey of Newnan has been working for such legislation, which is being sponsored this session by State Representative Andy Welch and co-signed by Representative Matt Ramsey.
Representative Welch said the bill is "in the hopper" and will be assigned a number this week. "We're very excited about it," he said.
Harvey's own experiences with her daughter, Olivia, spurred her interest in becoming an advocate for others. Olivia was born with three congenital heart defects -- coarctation of the aorta, pulmonary stenosis and mitral stenosis -- all conditions that will have life-long impact.
Harvey and another metro-Atlanta mom, Jessica Hatcher of Newton, first contacted legislators last year about the pulse ox issue. The states of Maryland and New Jersey already require pulse ox screenings for newborns and several states have pilot studies in place.
According to Welch, hearings on the proposed study for Georgia will begin in February. The study, if approved by lawmakers, would be needed to determine how a pulse ox requirement would affect PeachCare, including cost per infant. "That will help guide us," said Welch about the proposed study.
In 2010, the U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary's Committee on Heritable Disorders in Newborns and Children recommended screening of newborns for Critical Congenital Heart Disease (CCHD) using pulse ox. The screening, conducted by placing a meter on an infant's toe, is used to measure the degree of oxygen saturation in the red blood cells.
"It should be close to 100 percent," said Dr. Matt Oster, pediatric cardiologist at Children's Health Care of Atlanta. 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 blood from reaching the lungs for oxygenation.
Many children born with life-threatening heart defects exhibit no symptoms and appear healthy at first. 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.
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. For Olivia Harvey, early detection was key in her longterm health, and that's why her mother is supporting the pulse oximetry campaign.
Harvey says more information on the pulse ox campaign is available at http://pulseoxadvocacy.com including how to talk to your legislator about the issue. She says another good online resource for parents of children with heart defects, or anyone interested in learning more, is http://www.itsmyheart.org/ . "It has ways you can get involved," she said.