Gov. Nixon signed a law this week that will help detect more heart defects in newborns.

Chloe’s Law, named for Kansas City-area patient Chloe Manz, makes pulse oximetry screening mandatory for all newborns starting in 2014.

Pulse oximetry registers oxygen levels in the blood. Medical staff conduct the screening by placing sensors on the baby’s skin.

The reading will pick up conditions where the heart sends too much unoxygenated blood out to the body, said Dr. William Drake, a pediatric cardiologist with Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City. Dr. Drake also was Chloe Manz’s doctor.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 300 babies are discharged with undiagnosed critical congenital heart conditions every year. Chloe’s Law could help prevent that from happening as often.

“That’s the most important thing, because some of these kids with serious heart defects get sent home with (heart defects) not recognized,” Dr. Drake said. “Anywhere from two days to three weeks later, they’re back in the emergency room, basically on death’s door, because the defects aren’t recognized early enough.”

Congenital heart defects also are more common than some of the disorders blood spot tests check for. Blood spot tests have been mandatory newborn screenings for several years.

Dr. Drake discovered Chloe’s congenital heart condition nine hours after her birth in 2008. She underwent treatment for her condition and will turn 5 in November.

Her mother, Kelly Manz, has been advocating to make pulse oximetry screening mandatory for all Missouri newborns since 2009. This year’s attempt included support from the American College of Cardiology, the American Heart Association, the March of Dimes and the American Pediatric Association.

Part of the delay in making the pulse oximetry mandatory may be attributed to the relatively new awareness around the screening, Dr. Drake said. It’s only been recognized in the past 10 to 15 years as a useful tool to find congenital heart conditions, he said.

“I think there was kind of a mental momentum we had to push against to get the idea of having this introduced as a vital sign we had to do on newborns,” he said.

He also feels that the new law will help standardize treatment for infants if a critical congenital heart condition is found.

Jennifer Gordon can be reached


Follow her on Twitter: @SJNPGordon.

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