(Orange, Texas)

State News

March 15, 2013

Push for all newborns in Texas to be tested for heart defects

AUSTIN, Texas — The American Heart Association says it is a simple test that can save lives, and a bill introduced at the State Capitol seeks to make sure the test is done on all Texas newborns. The test is called a pulse oximetry screening, and can help catch babies with birth defects of the heart before they leave the hospital, according to Dr. Amit Khera at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.

"We're still missing a lot of these kids, and the problem is, once that diagnosis is delayed, sometimes when they're being rushed back to the hospital, they are critically ill," the doctor said. "So the goal is to try to pick up these kids with a very safe, easy and quick, cheap test that can be done before they go home."

A number of Texas hospitals and birthing centers already do the pulse ox screening as part of a newborn's regular testing and care. The bill, SB253, that would have it performed on all newborns in the state has not yet been scheduled for a committee hearing at the Legislature.

One person who knows the importance of the pulse ox firsthand is Curtis Popp of San Antonio.

"My son Christian, he was born in 2009, and a pediatrician using pulse oximetry detected his congenital heart defect and he was able to receive open-heart surgery while he was healthy," he said.

Popp said his son is now three-and-a-half years old and is doing miraculously.

The story of Christian, though, is not uncommon. It's estimated that up to 20,000 babies born in Texas each year have some type of birth defect, and the most common are those of the heart, according to Dr. Khera.

"Defects of the heart, we call them congenital heart disease, is one of the leading causes of death and birth defects in children," he said. "You can imagine if a heart is not formed right, then soon after a kid goes home, especially if it's a real abnormal heart, they will certainly get into trouble."

Not a lot is known about the causes of most birth defects, but there are a number of ways that women can cut their risk. That includes avoiding alcohol and smoking and taking a multivitamin every day that contains the full recommended dose of folic acid.

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