Doc Talk | Congenital heart defect screenings

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As Heart Health Month wraps up, it’s important to remember that not only middle-aged and elderly people need to pay attention to their hearts. They also need to pay attention to babies’ hearts.

For a little baby, not everything can be detected when they’re still in utero, but within 48 hours of their birth, a very simple test is done to ensure their heart is functioning properly.

While most newborns are fussy, this one was mostly fast asleep while nurses screened her congenital heart defects. This screening is mandated in Pennsylvania and in most states across the county to detect heart problems in newborns.

“We get a pass or fail and that can indicate whether the baby has what we call a critical congenital heart defect which would be a very serious disorder which would need follow up prior to discharge,” said Geisinger Holy Spirit nurse Rachel Lippert.

A day or two after a baby is born, nurses wrap a pulse oximeter probe around its hand and food and then compare the numbers. As long as the numbers are both above 95 on a machine, the baby is in good condition. If that’s not the case, it indicates further testing is needed.

“The benefits of the screening are that it’s quick, it’s simple to do. It’s non-invasive and it’s effective,” said Lippert.

To raise awareness of the screening, employees at Geisinger Holy Spirit knitted and crocheted red hats for the babies born in February.

“It is worth it in the long run because it has decreased congenital heart defects later in life by 33% just by doing this test,” said Geisinger Holy Spirit Childbirth Education Coordinator Anne Marie Watt.

Nurse Rachel Lippert would know. Her daughter had a heart defect when she was born.

“We were very blessed in hers resolved on its own at 6 months of age approximately but some of them won’t.”

Nurses say the screening picks up the more significant defects even when there are no obvious signs or symptoms.

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