Heart Defect Screening Bill Clears First Hurdle

Updated: 02/13/2013 8:15 PM KSTP.com By: Steve Tellier

A quick test could save your child's life. Now, experts and lawmakers are pushing for every child born in Minnesota to be tested for a heart defect.

A House committee approved the bill on Wednesday afternoon. It will now be forwarded on to another committee for approval.

It would require every newborn in Minnesota to be screened for critical congenital heart disease before they're released from the hospital.

One mother said the legislation could save lives.

"He was strong. He was amazing," said Jolene Tesch, who lost her son to critical congenital heart disease in 2010.

Her son, David, was born with a heart that would only beat for two-and-a-half months.

"We knew that the time that we would have with him would be really, really precious," Tesch said.

Little David was born with a heart defect, and died on his first day at home.

"To see your child in a state where you're absolutely helpless -- there's nothing that you can do for them," Tesch said.

According to the CDC, about one in 100 babies are born with a congenital heart defect. About 1,700 die from the disease each year.

Tesch has since joined a group called Lasting Imprint, which pushes for congenital heart disease awareness. She's now urging lawmakers to pass a bill she says would save some of those lives.

"This is a simple, non-invasive, easy, practical test," Tesch said.

The legislation would require every newborn to get screened by a device called a pulse oximeter. A skin probe, similar to a band-aid, is wrapped around a newborn's hand or foot. The information it collects is fed to a machine, which can help detect a critical heart defect before it's too late.

"It needs to be caught early on," said Dr. Lazaros Kochilas, a cardiologist with the University of Minnesota's Pediatric Heart Center.

He said the screening works.

"It doesn't cause any pain, it's not invasive, and it's extremely affordable," Kochilas said.

And he estimated the cost at just $5 per newborn screened.

"We're going to save a lot of kids and prevent a lot of damage in kids that have heart diseases," Kochilas said.

The screening arrived too late for David. But his mother said it's not too late to act.

"You are going to be able to save, every year, so many lives just by doing this one little test," Tesch said.

Not everyone is in favor of this legislation. Along with the cost, the Citizens Council on Health Care is concerned about privacy issues. The government would have a database of this kind of health information for all Minnesota newborns.