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Eight-year-old Lily, dad T.J. Shields, mom Tracey Shields, brother Peyton Shields and baby brother Nash Shields

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March 12, 2007 was the most terrifying day of Tracy Shields’ life. Tracy, who lives in Waveland, Mississippi, took her newborn daughter Lily to the doctor for her two week check-up where the doctor discovered an abnormal heart rhythm. After an EKG confirmed a problem, the doctor sent Tracy and Lily to the emergency room right away. Tracy was in a state of panic.

Once Tracy and Lily arrived at the hospital, a Pediatric Cardiologist was waiting for them. He hooked Lily up to a monitor and explained that Lily had Supraventricular Tachycardia (SVT), a heart condition where the heart's electrical system doesn't work right, causing the heart to beat very fast.

In order to get Lily’s heart into a normal rhythm doctors put a Ziploc bag of ice on her face and shocked her back into a normal rhythm.

“Watching your baby scream while they held a bag of ice on her face was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do,” said Tracy. “From the ER, we were brought up to the PICU, where we lived for the next two weeks.”

Doctors finally got Lily’s heart into a normal rhythm that was controlled by medication for the first year of her life. When Lily was 13 months old she was able stop taking the medications. She had thankfully outgrown the SVT. She is still checked yearly, but is now a healthy, active 7-year-old.

Lily’s heart defect, as well as those of countless other Mississippi newborns, could most likely have been detected right after birth, had she been given a pulse oximetry screening.

The American Heart Association is working to have pulse oximetry screening added to the Newborn Screening Panel for all babies born in Mississippi. This would require pulse oximetry screening of all newborns for congenital heart defects. Congenital heart defects are the number one killer of infants with birth defects.

“Pulse oximetry saves lives,” said Dr. Mary Taylor, co-director of the Children’s Heart Center at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. “The non-invasive screening can effectively identify infants with signs of congenital heart defects, saving valuable time and helping determine what the next course of testing and treatment should be.”

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Current detection methods miss more than 50 percent of all newborn cases of congenital heart defects. Present methods of detection generally include prenatal ultrasound screening and repeated clinical examinations which can identify many affected newborns. However, these screenings alone still only identify less than half of all cases and critical heart defect cases are often missed during routine clinical exams performed prior to a newborn’s discharge from a birthing facility.

Pulse oximetry screening is a non-invasive test that estimates the percentage of hemoglobin in blood that is saturated with oxygen. The test is simple, merely wrapping the small Band-Aid like oxygen sensor around the baby’s toe or foot. When performed on newborns in the delivery center it is effective at detecting life-threating defects which otherwise can go undetected by current screening methods.

What’s more, pulse oximetry screening is cost effective and could drastically cut healthcare costs. One study calculated that the savings in healthcare costs from the prevention of one case of complications of circulatory collapse resulting from an undiagnosed congenital heart defect may exceed the cost of screening two thousand newborns.

In 2011, the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services recommended that pulse oximetry screening be included as part of the Recommended Screening Panel for Newborns.

The American Heart Association has partnered with the March of Dimes and the American Academy of Pediatrics to work with the Genetics Advisory Committee and the Mississippi State Department of Health to add pulse oximetry screening to the Newborn Screening Panel to insure that all Mississippi newborns are screened for heart defects prior to discharge from the birthing facility.

To learn more about pulse oximetry screening, visit www.yourethecure.org.

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