Conway Medical now screening newborns for heart defects

Lucia Sloan scrunched up her face and cried briefly as the nurse flattened the curled fingers of her right hand and attached a thin, plastic-covered wire to her palm.

She was quiet, seeming to return to sleep, as the nurse attached the other end of the wire to a pulse oximeter and checked to see its reading of Lucia’s blood oxygen. Her nurse was performing a test, new at Conway Medical Center, to check for congenital heart defects.

“A hundred percent,” the nurse said. “That’s what we want to see.”

Lucia stirred again as the nurse secured the wire to her foot and checked to see that the reading there was in line with that from her palm.

Had there been more than 3 percent difference in the two readings, the nurse would have repeated the procedure. If that too, showed readings more than 3 percent apart, she would have called Lucia’s pediatrician, who likely would have had her sent to a specialist in Florence or Charleston.

Lucia was but 2 days old when she had the test in Conway.

Conway Medical Center began checking newborns on Monday. Grand Strand Regional Medical Center has been doing the test since October, spokeswoman Joan Carroza said, and like Conway Medical, has had no infants yet that have had readings indicating a congenital heart defect.

Conway Medical Center got the three pulse oximeters it uses for the test through a grant from the Emerson Rose Heart Foundation, which was established in 2011 by Clemson parents whose daughter died of a congenital heart defect about 31/2 months after she was born. Carroza said Grand Strand does the tests on equipment the hospital purchased and that it has received no grants for oximeters from the foundation.

The foundation – – is on a mission to raise money not only to see that every South Carolina hospital has the equipment to do the test, but to help parents with expenses they face while dealing with a child in a hospital.

So far, according to the foundation’s website, it has funded 17 pulse oximeters for five hospitals. It has also purchased bedside radios for the 12-bed pediatric intensive care unit at the Medical University of South Carolina so the tiny patients could be soothed by listening to lullabies.

“I think any testing we can do now is always a plus,” said Amanda Sloan of Aynor, Lucia’s mother.

The mother of three daughters, she said her second was delivered very quickly and at first looked to her mother as though she were blue from lack of oxygen.

“Your heart does drop for a second,” she said of her reaction.

The foundation’s website says that congenital heart defects are the most common of birth defects, affecting 1 in every 100 children.

Jean Burleson, director of maternal child health at Conway Medical, said that early detection is critical for infants with congenital heart defects to receive care that could save their lives.

Burleson said the readings taken for congenital heart defects are the newest of about 40 tests that are given to newborns before they leave hospitals.

While newborns with obvious circulatory problems have been given oximeter readings for some time, standardizing the test for all newborns was first recommended by the American Academy Pediatrics in 2010. A newborn can have a heart defect and appear completely healthy. It is only through a check of their blood oxygen levels that a problem can be detected.

The newest test mandated for newborns prior to the heart defect screening was a newborn hearing screening, at the time the only test that didn’t rely on a blood sample to get results. The congenital heart defect screening, also noninvasive, has yet to be mandated by the state, Burleson said, but she added that she expects that it will be.

The Emerson Rose Foundation is lobbying for a bill that would require the test for newborns.

Burleson said that through the years, there have been children born at Conway Medical who had congenital heart defects that went undetected and the children later died.

But the chance of that happening in the future is greatly reduced because the new test is standard care for all newborns.