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  • A newborn receives a quick and painless pulse oximetry test at MultiCare Tacoma General Hospital.

    A newborn receives a quick and painless pulse oximetry test at MultiCare Tacoma General Hospital.

    18,000 newborns screened for hidden heart defects since 2008

    by Cole Cosgrove

    Hidden heart defects in healthy-appearing newborns have been found and fixed, thanks to a quick and painless test that's celebrating its sixth anniversary this week at MultiCare Health System.

    Since Feb. 14, 2008, more than 18,000 newborns have been screened at MultiCare hospitals. Called pulse oximetry, the test detects low levels of oxygen in the blood, which may be indicative of a heart defect.

    So far, five critical congenital heart defect cases have been identified through the screening.

    Tacoma General, in collaboration with the MultiCare Mary Bridge Pediatric Heart Center, was one of the first hospitals in the state to offer pulse oximetry screening to all healthy-appearing newborns, starting in 2008. 

    In 2012, the screening began to be offered for the first time for newborns at MultiCare Good Samaritan Hospital in Puyallup, supported by grant funding from the Fraternal Order of Eagles in Puyallup. Testing also has started in the Family Birth Center at MultiCare Auburn Medical Center. 

    Mended Little Hearts of Puget Sound: www.facebook.com/MendedLittleHeartsOfPugetSound

    “My big passion for this comes from babies who do not have this test, and then show up in our Emergency Department or clinics when they’re very sick with serious heart disease that could have been detected earlier,” said Dr. Matthew Park, a pediatric cardiologist with NorthWest Children's Heart Care and Pediatrix Medical Group, who practices at Mary Bridge Children's Hospital and Tacoma General Hospital.

    Nine out of 1,000 infants are born with congenital heart disease. Of those, 25 percent are critical defects that require lifesaving surgery within the first month of life.

    Feb. 7-14 is Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Week.

    “Unfortunately, less than half of all infants are diagnosed by routine prenatal ultrasound,” Dr. Park said. “Due to normal cardiac and respiratory physiologic changes that occur during the normal transition infants go through during the first 48 hours of life, many infants with critical defects do not have signs, symptoms or exam findings that alert parents and caregivers to the possibility of a critical heart defects. These infants can become very sick very quickly with a high chance of sudden death.”

    MultiCare’s research helps change national policy

    The work that has already saved young lives in Tacoma could soon be saving newborns across the United States. 

    In 2012, the American Academy of Pediatrics officially endorsed newborn screening for critical congenital heart disease. 

    Representatives of MultiCare’s program were one of three U.S. hospital teams selected to travel to Washington, D.C., to make a presentation about the lifesaving potential of universal pulse oximetry newborn screening. Because of research at Tacoma General and other sites, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius recommended pulse oximetry for all newborns nationwide.

    For this pioneering work in screening newborns for heart defects, MultiCare Tacoma General Hospital’s Family Birth Center and the MultiCare Mary Bridge Pediatric Heart Center received the 2011 Warren Featherstone Reid Award for Excellence in Health Care.

    “Our newborns are showing why this test could soon be saving young lives at other hospitals,” said Shelly Mullin, President of the West Pierce Region for MultiCare Health System. “Mothers who give birth at our Family Birth Center find comfort in knowing their babies have been screened for heart defects before they go home from the hospital.”

    Our patients in the news

    KING 5 News, Dec. 20, 2011: “Heart test that saved baby now recommended for all newborns”

    KOMO 4 News, Feb. 17, 2009: "If it weren't for the screening, she wouldn't be here"


    Posted on Feb 12, 2014 in Cardiac, Kids' Health