Babies born at Christiana Care Health System now are being tested for potentially fatal heart defects within their first two days of life, allowing them to receive immediate care if necessary, thanks to a new pulse oximetry initiative. The simple, 15-minute screening can identify a number of critical congenital heart defects in babies who may otherwise appear healthy. These defects, while rare—affecting three to four children in every 1,000 live births—can be fatal if not diagnosed and treated immediately after birth.
“When babies are 24 to 28 hours of age, a nurse attaches a tiny electrode to one hand and one foot to measure oxygen saturation in their blood,” said Louis Bartoshesky, M.D., chairman of Christiana Care’s Department of Pediatrics. “The test can take place either at the mother’s bedside or in a treatment room and is not invasive. There are no needles, just electrodes measuring skin color at those sites. It identifies children whose blood oxygen level is lower than it should be.”
A test that shows a newborn’s oxygen to be higher in the hand than the foot, for example, can indicate a narrowing of the aorta, one of the several potential critical congenital defects. If the screening produces any type of abnormal result, the newborn’s primary care physician and an on-site pediatric hospitalist are alerted immediately, Dr. Bartoshesky said.