This spring, Cloud County Heath Center implemented a policy that requires every newborn delivered at CCHC to undergo pulse oximetry testing before being discharged from the hospital. This vital screening can detect critical congenital heart defects, many of which do not exhibit symptoms until the newborn is several days, even weeks, old.
The test consists of sensors placed on a newborn's hand and foot to check blood oxygen levels. If levels are too low, additional tests may be conducted that aid in detecting critical or possibly life-threatening heart defects that might otherwise go undetected.

There has been a large push in the state of Kansas to mandate pulse oximetry testing on all newborns born in the state. Currently, Kansas is one of a handful of states that do not require this testing. CCHC is ahead of the curve among critical access hospitals in the state of Kansas by performing this test before it is a requirement. Screening is especially important in rural areas such as Cloud County, where the distance to a children's hospital such as Children's Mercy prevents such a facility's helicopter from flying into the facility to pick up a newborn. Transport of a critical newborn requires fixed-wing transport out of Salina to Kansas City International Airport, a process that can take upwards of 4 to 5 hours, at a time when mere minutes and seconds matter. If these problems are detected prior to discharge, they can be treated before the infant is in a critical state.

"Pulse Ox screening can help detect problems before symptoms appear," explained Dr. Stephen Kaine, pediatric cardiologist with Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City. "Oftentimes, the symptoms of those conditions are not evident at birth. With infants going home sometimes as early as 24 hours after they're born, they may not start showing those signs of turning blue, having a heart murmur that can be heard or having breathing issues before they leave."

One out of every 100 babies is born with a congenital heart defect, the number one birth defect and a leading cause of infant death in Kansas. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 7,200 children are born with critical congenital heart defects each year. As many as 1,000 of those are discharged without the defects being detected.

Pulse oximetry testing is a priority for the American Heart Association and its advocates nationwide. As of today, more than 30 states require pulse oximetry screening to be performed on every baby.

For more information about Pulse Oximetry efforts in Kansas visit www.yourethecure.org or contact the American Heart Association at (913) 652-1913.