Kentucky will soon require simple screening at birth to detect silent killers of newborns

A new state law taking effect in January will require all babies born in Kentucky to be screened for critical congenital heart disease, which is often a silent killer of newborns who appear to be healthy and who are discharged from the hospital with the unrecognizable disease.

Since Indiana became the first state in the nation to get such mandatory screening signed into law in May 2011, more than 20 states have passed legislation requiring a non-invasive, inexpensive screening test called pulse oximetry at birth, reports Laura Ungar of The Courier-Journal. The test can detect this life-threatening disease and allow health care providers to act quickly to save the baby’s life.

Don Shieman, Kentucky state director of the March of Dimes, who helped lobby for the law with the state legislature, said about 65 infants are born with CCHD in Kentucky each year. “If we can detect the problem soon enough, we can save lives,” Shieman told Ungar. State Sen. Dennis Parrett, an Elizabethtown Democrat who helped sponsor the state’s new law, said this requirement is a simple solution to a deadly problem he know something about.

“My wife and I have some experience with this,” Parrett told Ungar. “Our younger daughter was born with a severe heart defect” called tricuspid atresia, and underwent surgery at Kosair Childen’s Hospital and her heart is doing fine, Parrett told Ungar. “There’s a lot of infants whose heart defects are not caught,” Parrett said. “What we wanted to do is make it a part of normal infant screening.”

Each test costs about $4, so Parrett said there’s no real fiscal impact to adding pulse oximetry to the list or required screenings for newborns, says Ungar. In general, hospitals already have the equipment for the test, many of which are already doing the test.

The legislation could lead to success stories similar to that of Shooter Bratcher of Caneyville, right, who was treated for infection and underwent surgery for CCHD recently at Kosair. Shooter was born full-term and and seemed normal at birth, but about five days after going home, things just didn’t seem right, and he kept getting worse. Shooter’s parents took him to the ER at their local hospital, Twin Lakes Regional Medical Center in Leitchfield, where doctors didn’t pick up on his CCHD, Ungar reports. A day later, he went by ambulance to Kosair, and could have died if his parents didn’t notice the little signs of a problem. Unfortunately, such signs sometimes show up at night, when parents are
asleep or not paying close attention. Other times, the disease isn’t caught quickly enough, leading to serious serious problems such as
infections, brain damage, disability or death, Ungar reports.

Pulse oximetry will allow health care providers to detect seven types of CCHD. For more information about the test, the law or to watch a video in which Shooter’s parents share their story, click here.

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