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One baby’s heart defect is saving lives with new test

Photo courtesy WCCO TV

When baby Eve Saarinen was first born, she looked healthy. However, right before she was discharged, Eve’s doctor detected a heart murmur, a condition that is fairly common in newborns.

After Eve was screened, her physician, Lazaros Kochilas, M.D., a pediatric cardiologist with the University of Minnesota Children’s Hospital, informed the family their child was in heart failure and she needed immediate surgery. This inspired Eve’s mom, Annamarie Saarinen, to help prevent seemingly healthy babies being discharged who in reality have a serious medical condition.

In a WCCO-TV interview, Annamarie said she began to research different diagnostic tests and found pulse oximetry screening.  A test used in the neonatal ICU measures the flow of oxygen in the blood. Annamarie informed Kochilas of her idea to implement this diagnostic test for all newborns and the cardiologist began a pilot study in six hospitals.

According to University pediatric cardiologist Jamie Lohr, M.D., who was also part of the research, the pilot study of this critical congenital heart defect (CCHD) screening showed that the test is safe, noninvasive, painless and takes less than five minutes to perform.

“We estimate that at least 10 newborns in Minnesota each year will benefit from early detection of a critical congenital heart defect through this screening program,” said Lohr. “Statewide screening was implemented in January 2014, and we are working to continue to improve the screening process.”

Experts will be working on further follow up tests, as well as educating families and health care providers about this simple test. Although this test helps prevent complications from undiagnosed congenital heart disease (CHD), it is not 100 percent effective.

“It is important to remember that CCHD screening does not detect all forms of CHD, and that any infant with symptoms of poor feeding, or difficulty breathing in the newborn period or early infancy should be evaluated by a health care professional,” said Lohr.

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