E. Texas hospitals now testing for heart defects at birth

NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) - A number of East Texas hospitals now are performing a test designed to catch congenital heart defects before the baby ever leaves the hospital.

The test isn't new, but before now it was not a part of routine newborn screenings.

The pulse oximetry test was once reserved for babies having trouble breathing.

"What we do is we check one foot and the right hand of the baby to see what the oxygen level is," said Melanie Miller, the women's services director at Nacogdoches Medical Center. "And if there is a difference of more than 3 percent between the foot and hand that's indication that there could be a congenital heart defect."

Sometimes heart defects have no indicators of anything wrong. A pulse oximetry test can catch a problem early.

"The sooner you can find a heart defect the better outcome you'll have," Miller said. "There will be less neurological delays. You can intervene sooner and possibly save the baby's life."
Luckily, this baby is OK.

Particularly comforting for new mom Shyanna Hunt.

"When I was little I had heart problems, like my valves and stuff," Hunt said. "They were enlarging faster than my body was growing. When she told me they can do screenings for things like that, it was fine with me. That will ease my nerves."

Not all hospitals have made pulse oximetry part of its routine screening. They want to be assured if something is wrong, they'll have a plan to treat it. Hospitals want first a connection with a pediatric cardiologist.

It's estimated that up to 20,000 babies born in Texas each year have some type of birth defect.

The March of Dimes is celebrating its 75th year of raising money and awareness in the fight against birth defects.

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