February is a time to reflect on matters of the heart — a healthy heart.
This is American Heart Month, designed to spotlight one of the leading causes of illness and death in Americans, and emphasize the importance of detecting critical heart conditions early on. For the staff at Sharp HealthCare, identifying a critical heart condition happens year-round.
In newborns, congenital heart defects (CHD) are the most common birth defects. Infants with CHD have an abnormal heart structure that creates irregular blood flow patterns and low oxygen levels. Approximately 8 out of every 1,000 infants born have a form of CHD. For these babies, early detection can help avoid potentially serious complications within the first few days or weeks of life.
"A simple test can easily detect if there might be heart disease, or at least lead us to investigate a little bit further," says Monika Lanciers, BSN, RN-MNN, clinical nurse educator at Sharp Mary Birch Hospital for Women & Newborns.
Lanciers worked with doctors and staff at Sharp Mary Birch to develop a policy and CHD screening procedure for nurses at all Sharp HealthCare facilities that care for infants. She insists that every infant be screened for CHD because many times there are no physical signs of sickness.
"Not every baby who is sick necessarily looks ill. They may have a congenital heart defect and look just fine," says Lanciers. "They might not look purplish, blueish or dusky, or show anything that makes us wonder if anything is going on — that's why these screenings are so important."
The screening is simple, non-invasive and done 24 to 48 hours after birth. Nurses place sensors from two pulse oximeter machines on the baby's right hand and either foot to measure the amount of oxygen in the baby's blood for at least a minute. If levels are low, it can be a sign of a critical heart defect.
To facilitate the heart screenings, Lanciers helped develop the equipment with a medical device company using a specially designed roll cart so that the entire screening can be done at mom's bedside or in the comfort of her arms.
"These babies can get the proper treatment before they go home and be easily saved," says Lanciers.
In fact, within its first month of application, a nurse at Sharp Mary Birch was able to detect a serious heart defect. The infant received immediate care in the hospital thanks to this early detection.