More than 14,000 children are born in Texas each year with some heart condition or congenital irregularity. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cardiac defects account for nearly 30 percent of infant deaths.
Texas lawmakers have an opportunity during the 83rd legislative session - with Senate Bill 253 - to save newborn lives by requiring screening for congenital heart disease at all birth facilities throughout Texas.
In the past, lawmakers have had the foresight to create a newborn-health-screening panel, and recent studies have demonstrated the need for pulse oximetry as a tool to help identify heart disease, a logical progression of diagnosing newborn health.
When a baby is born, hospitals routinely perform hearing, sight and reflex tests to ease parents' anxiety. Adding pulse oximetry, a noninvasive test, to this program would check newborn production of oxygen and hemoglobin.
The results, determined within minutes, estimate the percentage of hemoglobin in blood that is saturated with oxygen and determine whether there are low levels of oxygen - a sign that there could be congenital heart disease and more testing or physician consultation needs to take place. If not administered, parents and children could be surprised days, months or years down the road to be informed of a fatal defect that could have been identified on day one.
Congenital heart defects range in severity. Some can cause life-threatening symptoms that require intervention within the first days of life. Many babies born with a heart defect appear healthy at first and can be sent home with their families before their heart defect is detected.
An estimated 300 infants with an unrecognized congenital heart defect are discharged each year from newborn nurseries in the U.S. These babies are at risk for serious complications within the first few days or weeks of life and often require emergency care.
Why is the American Heart Association advocating for this legislation? Of all infant deaths caused by birth defects, nearly one in three is because of a congenital heart defect that could be identified at birth via this simple test.
The 83rd Texas Legislature could make a significant impact on heart disease, the No. 1 killer of Texans, by embracing Senate Bill 253 and sending it to Gov. Rick Perry for his signature. Thousands of lives would be impacted, and these Texas babies could go on to lead productive, healthy lives as the next generation of teachers, nurses, doctors and parents, the future of Texas.
As a retired nurse, member of the American Heart Association's State Advocacy Committee and longtime volunteer, I encourage our Texas lawmakers to save these tiny lives and enact this legislation during the 83rd session.
To find out more about this advocacy effort and how you can assist the American Heart Association during the current legislative session, visit www.heart.org.