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O’Donnell, Wagner, Ramos Bill Requiring Non-Invasive Test at Birth Will Save Lives

The State Senate on Thursday approved a bill sponsored by Assembly members Jason O’Donnell, Connie Wagner and Ruben Ramos that could make New Jersey a leader nationwide in the movement to implement a non-invasive, low-cost test that will save newborns’ lives.

The measure (A-3744/S-2752), passed unanimously by both houses, would require a pulse oximetry, or “pulse ox,” test at least 24 hours post-birth to identify Congenital Heart Disease (CHD). With only a handful of other states having similar measures pending, New Jersey could be the first state in the nation to legislatively implement the life-saving measure if signed into law soon.

“I am proud that New Jersey is setting an example for the rest of the nation by requiring the pulse ox test to save babies lives,” said O’Donnell (D-Hudson), whose third child was born with CHD. “This bill is common sense. We have a mandatory check for hearing on newborns, and it’s about time we establish a mandatory check for life-threatening heart defects.”

CHD is the most common birth defect in infants, with approximately one in 100 children born with some type of structural problem in the heart, most of which are not diagnosed prior to birth. Such structural problems impact the flow of blood through the heart, lungs, and brain.

Some types of CHD cause no or very few health problems for the infants, while others bring a significant risk of morbidity and mortality if not diagnosed soon after birth. Failing to detect critical CHD prior to letting the child go home can lead to life-threatening events including cardiogenic shock, and organ failure.

“With the passage of this bill, New Jersey is leading the way in improving how we deal with newborn screenings in this day and age,” said Wagner (D-Bergen). “One test will not only protect newborns and parents, but also hospitals and doctors. I can think of no better present for any future parents than to know that we are putting into place a measure that will protect their child.”

The pulse ox is a simple, non-invasive and painless test used to measure the percent of oxygen in the blood. The pulse ox is placed on the baby’s foot by a sticky strip, like a band-aid, and takes just a few minutes to perform. A low pulse oximetry reading would prompt a doctor or nurse practitioner to ask for more testing, such as a heart ultrasound or echocardiogram. While the pulse oximetry test may not identify all CHD, it is a significant and sensible step toward early detection.

“Even one newborn saved through this test will make this bill worthwhile,” said Ramos (D-Hudson). “This is a simple, common-sense way to protect the lives of our children while also giving parents peace of mind.”

Other states are working on similar bills, including Indiana, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Tennessee. Minnesota has already implemented a pilot program to begin expanding routine screening in its hospitals.

On a national level, the Secretary’s Advisory Committee on Heritable Disorders (SACHDNC) in Newborns and Children worked the past two years with the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Cardiology, and the American Heart Association to establish standardized federal recommendations for screening and diagnostic follow-up of CHD issues.

The U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, just last week stated that there is critical importance of screening for CHD. She has tasked the Interagency Coordinating Committee on Newborn and Child Screening (ICCNCS) with immediately (within 90 days) reviewing and closing any gaps within and providing a plan of action to implement the SACHDNC’s five recommendations for a national standard of screening and diagnostic follow-up.