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Governor Signs Bill Encouraging Heart Defect Screening For Newborns

baby's foot with pulse oximeter
A newborn's foot with a pulse oximeter taped around the arch. Photo: Matthew Hoelscher (CC-BY-SA)

More Wisconsin hospitals might screen newborns for a potential heart defect.

Three years ago, the Obama administration recommended all states consider adding congenital heart defect screening for newborns. After some prodding from a Milwaukee newspaper, state Republicans accelerated a previously slow-moving bill through the Legislature. Gov. Scott Walker signed the measure on Monday.

The pulse oximetry test attaches a probe to a baby’s hand and foot and measures heart function. Dr. Stuart Berger, of Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, said doing the exam when the child is only a day or two old can save lives and money.

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“Sometimes, parents will go home thinking they have a normal baby,” Berger said. “Things can change, blood vessels can close off, and they can come in sick as blazes. And at that point, you still can intervene, but you’re already behind the eight ball.”

Berger said surgery or other procedures can usually fix any defect. Children’s Hospital already does the test, and so do some other hospitals around the state.

Walker said he’ll encourage the Wisconsin Department of Health Services to do outreach to more sites over the next few weeks.