New Legislation Requires All Hospitals to Test Babies for Heart Defects

By Jill Kasparie, Reporter

MARION, Iowa – A test that only costs a few dollars and takes just a couple minutes could be the key to saving the lives of newborns.

Now, new legislation mandates that all hospitals in the state must do the test. It's called a Pulse Oximetry Screening, and it tests brand new babies for heart issues.

The American Heart Association was among the group pushing to get the legislation passed at the end of the session. Governor Terry Branstad just held a ceremony to sign the new law this month. Doctors said while many hospitals were already making the move to offer the screening, this law will make it a requirement for all hospitals to do so.

One Marion family knows first-hand how heart defects can play a big role in the lives of little ones. Cole Lamka, 2, and Carter Lamka, 5, are always busy, especially when it comes to play time.

"Both of them keep us on our toes," said the boys' Mother Erin Lamka.

The high-energy kids, however, are something Erin and Jeff Lamka are thankful for. Carter was born with a serious heart defect called Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome.

"Essentially he's got half a heart that really functions," said Jeff Lamka.

After watching their son go through three heart surgeries, they advocated for the bill that just received the governor's signature. The new law requires every hospital to give newborns a pulse oximetry screening before leaving the hospital. It checks for undetectable heart problems. The test uses small sensors to measures the level of oxygen in a baby's blood. Low levels mean there's an issue.

"Congenital heart disease is the number one birth defect that babies are born with and the screening targets critical congenital heart disease, which if undetected, those infants could go home and have an event at home, which could be life threatening," said UIHC's Dr. Ben Reinking, Pediatric Cardiologist.

"I can't imagine going through something like that. Being able to catch that while you are at the hospital and having all the resources to take care of a newborn, to me, is hugely important," Jeff Lamka said.

The Lamka's believe this new legislation will save baby's lives. They know catching issues early means more play time and more healthy babies across the state.

As the American Heart Association set out to get this legislation passed, only 65% of the hospitals in Iowa required the screening. Doctors said the test costs less than $10 dollars and is usually covered by insurance.
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