Mary Bridge Children's Hospital

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Newborn Heart Screening


In April 2013, MultiCare Health System officially declared pulse oximetry newborn heart screening standard of care for all newborns in MHS family birth centers.  While pulse oximetry screening has been offered to all families since 2008 as part of a research study, the screening test will now be performed for all babies as part of their normal newborn care.  Since its inception in 2008, pulse oximetry screening has identified 45 infants with congenital heart defects, four of whom had critical congenital heart defects.  In May 2012 the screening program was expanded to include Good Samaritan Hospital in Puyallup and screening is now expanding to Auburn Medical Center.

Heart test that saved baby now recommended for all newborns, 12/20/2011

Baby Charlie is the apple of his mother's eye. A little more than three months ago he was born, seemingly healthy, at Tacoma General Hospital. Lindsay explains what happened as the family prepared to leave the hospital for home with their newborn. Read more >>>

State award honors lifesaving newborn heart screening program, 9/19/2011

For their pioneering work in screening newborns for heart defects, MultiCare Tacoma General Family Birth Center and Mary Bridge Pediatric Heart Center have been chosen to receive the 2011 Warren Featherstone Reid Award for Excellence in Health Care. Read more >>>


Tacoma General Hospital, aided by the Mary Bridge Pediatric Heart Program, is the only hospital in the state to screen newborns for congenital heart defects (CHDs) prior to discharge.

A pulse oximetry screening study was launched on February 14, 2008 (Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Day), with Mary Bridge Cardiothoracic Surgeon Ronald Woods, MD, PhD, as the principal investigator. The study is supported in part by a grant from the Fraternal order of the Eagles, and has received IRB approval for continuation in 2009. The goal of this effort is to diagnose and treat children with heart defects early.

CHDs occur in approximately 1:100 births and are the leading cause of newborn and infant death. Yet, heart defects are sometimes overlooked and not routinely diagnosed in newborns. Early detection and early treatment lead to better outcomes through surgery, interventional cardiology procedures, and medication. When a baby born at Tacoma General (TG) is diagnosed with a heart defect, the Mary Bridge Pediatric Heart Program team is available on-site for diagnosis and treatment.

In 2008, nearly 2,200 babies in TG's Women & Newborn Center were screened with pulse oximetry monitoring. Parental consent is obtained, and parents are provided educational materials on the signs and symptoms of heart defects in infants and children. Babies with two lower-than-expected oxygen saturation levels have an echocardiogram prior to discharge.

"The study has successfully identified two newborns with heart defects," says Diane Zook, research study coordinator. Neither neonate displayed symptoms of a cardiac abnormality. One infant underwent uneventful repair of coarctation of the aorta in August. Another infant had successful open heart surgery for repair of total anomalous pulmonary venous connection, ventricular septal defect, atrial septal defect and patent ductus arteriosus in October. Both infants are doing well and are being followed closely.

To request study brochures for your office, or to refer a patient to this study, contact the Mary Bridge Pediatric Heart Program at 253-403-3527.

Newborn Screening Program - Pulse Oximetry Screening To Detect Congenital Heart Disease, 10/1/2007

MultiCare Health System’s Institutional Review Board recently approved a study to utilize pulse oximetry technology to screen normal newborns for congenital heart disease (CHD). Approximately 1 out of 100 babies are born with congenital heart defects, but finding babies with CHD is not easy.

Current practice for screening newborns is to look for symptoms and listen for murmurs in early exams. More extensive cardiac screening has not been widely pursued at because current diagnostics do not make good first-level screening tools.

A recent research trial of pulse oximetry screening for CHD was conducted with approximately 11,000 babies who had passed stethoscope evaluations. Three potentially life-threatening cardiac defects were found in the trial and two defects were missed (they were later found and treated). But a better-than-50 percent detection rate is good considering the cost of the screening is low, given that pulse oximetry equipment is readily available.

Pediatric cardiologists and obstetric providers believe that the addition of these screenings will improve the level of care for newborns at Tacoma General Hospital and add to the research being conducted in this area.

Grants from the Fraternal Order of Eagles help support this screening protocol. These grant dollars will support education and communication for physicians and other health care personnel, as well as for families whose children will participate in the screening. This research is scheduled to begin in early 2008.

For more information about this research effort, please contact the Mary Bridge Pediatric Heart Program at 253-403-3527.