LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) -- Congenital heart defects are the most common birth defect in the world, each year affecting 25,000 babies in the U.S. alone. That's why doctors at UAMS are now using a new testing procedure, they say could save lives, and give parents peace of mind.
Emma Grace was born January 9. The bond between her and her parents is instant. "No father wants to see their child ever get hurt. Even a little shot or a prick just hurts my heart," says her father, Josh Lewis.
But Lewis and his wife Rachel were relieved to find out, the latest heart screening procedure at UAMS just started a few weeks ago, could ease any potential fears about their daughter's health, and she wouldn't feel a thing.
"There are a few babies with very serious heart disease that cannot be detected on a prenatal ultrasound or by a general pediatrician doing an exam on them in the first 24 to 48 hours of life," says UAMS pediatrician Dr. Bryan Burke. "Their heart disease doesn't present until a few days after that time, and the unfortunate thing is, that heart disease can be so bad that it's deadly."
According to Dr. Burke, the test is painless. He says, "We measure a baby's oxygen concentration even when the baby appears to be completely healthy."
They perform the test by just touching little sensors to baby's wrist and ankle. If there is a big enough difference in the oxygen levels, it could signal a problem. The key, is doing the test early within 24 hours of birth.
"The advantage of detecting it early is that if you can get a baby before they are critically ill, and you can stabilize their heart while they're still healthy, while they're still pink, while they're still able to get blood circulating through their bodies in a stable fashion, it is ever so much easier to take that same baby who comes in forgetting to breathe, blue, very poor circulation and than have to fix then when they're in a very sick condition," Dr. Burke adds.
Lewis is all for the new test. He says, "We'll know ahead of time if she could have any problems with her heart or anything like that, because unfortunately too many families go home and they just don't know. The leave the hospital with their bundle of joy then a week later their baby could be turning blue or something like that, and it's just scary."
Emma Grace's tests came out just fine. "I think a sense of relief, I think would be the best way to put it," says Lewis.
"There is really no question that we're going to be saving babies' lives by doing this intervention," adds Dr. Burke.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebielius and the Academy of Pediatrics have recommended hospitals nationwide begin performing this test for heart defects. UAMS is one of the first in the state to do it, launched the testing Jan. 2.