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AB 1731 would require $3 test to save lives, anguish, medical expenses

September 1, 2012 (Sacramento) —Legislation by Assemblymember Marty Block (AD-78) to ensure early detection of life-threatening congenital heart disease in newborns left the Assembly today on a 59-16 vote. It is co-sponsored by the March of Dimes and the American Heart Association.

“AB 1731gives babies a fighting chance to beat the ticking time bomb of congenital heart disease,” Block said. “With a simple, inexpensive, non-invasive test we can save lives and ensure the healthy development of our newborns.” The test, called the pulse oximetry screening, measures oxygen levels in an infant’s blood. Probes are attached to the baby’s hand and foot, and the readings are noted on a device a little larger than a bedside radio.

Congenital heart disease involves defects of the walls, valves, veins or arteries of the heart and often is undetected before a newborn is discharged after birth. According to the March of Dimes, seven to nine babies out of every 1,000 born have some form of the disease. In California, 30 infants die each year from undiagnosed Critical Congenital Heart Disease. Last year, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius recommended that this screening be added to the examinations newborns receive before discharge.

“While working on this bill, I’ve learned of heartbreaking stories from parents who take their babies home, full of joy, only to return within a few days or weeks to emergency rooms because their infant’s breathing faltered, and then organs began to shut down as the disease revealed itself,” Block said.

“If the congenital heart defects can be spotted before a baby leaves the hospital, physicians can begin to treat the baby immediately before a life-threatening situation develops,” he added. “The infants usually are stronger physically with earlier interventions and are better able to come through the open heart surgeries and other procedures they might need as part of their treatment.”

Block noted that one San Diego County family took their infant home only to seek emergency care after three days. He was misdiagnosed and eventually spent 13 days in the neonatal intensive care unit to stabilize his condition. Once he was stronger, the child was airlifted to a larger hospital, and there underwent open-heart surgery.

In June, the child face faced additional surgery. His parents said the care cost $200,000. A pulse oximetry screening would have cost about three dollars, and their baby could have avoided some or all of the intensive care required to stabilize him before surgery, and they would have been able to avoid much of the emotional trauma and uncertainty they faced as their baby fought to live.

“March of Dimes is honored to sponsor AB 1731 and has a long history of working hand in hand with the California Legislature to ensure babies born in our state have the best chance for a healthy start in life,” said March of Dimes Public Affairs Committee Chair Gail Margolis. “The simple test required by AB 1731 is cost effective and will save lives.” A March of Dimes fact sheet about the measure may be found here.

“We must ensure every baby in California receives this life-saving test regardless of where they are born,” said Dr. Ali Shuman, a volunteer for the American Heart Association. “As Chair of Pediatrics at Community Memorial Hospital in Ventura, we were able to easily implement uniform screening seven months ago, and many other hospitals in California already test newborns because they too recognize the life-saving and cost-effective benefits.”

AB 1731 is also supported by the California Medical Association, the California Chapter of the American College of Cardiologists, the Children’s Specialty Care Association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and Kaiser Permanente.

Assemblymember Marty Block represents the cities and communities of Bonita, Chula Vista, Lemon Grove, San Diego and Spring Valley.

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