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February 11, 2013

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Critical Congenital Heart Disease Screening Saves Babies

(Richmond, Va.) A new screening offered in hospitals around Virginia can identify if a newborn has critical congenital heart disease (CCHD) before the child leaves the hospital. Congenital heart defects (CHD) are the most common birth defects in the United States, affecting about one in every 110 babies.  A few babies born with CHD have more serious forms of heart disease, or CCHD.  CCHDs are heart defects that can cause serious illness or even death if not found quickly, and they affect about two of every 1,000 babies.

Following Governor McDonnell’s Executive Order last April to develop a plan to implement screening for CCHD, the Virginia Department of Health received a three-year Health Resources and Services Administration grant to develop a pilot screening project. The Governor’s Work Group on CCHD convened soon after, followed by the development of the pilot project that was launched last fall at six birthing hospitals across the state.

“As many as 200 babies die from undiagnosed CCHD in the U.S. per year,” said State Health Commissioner Cynthia C. Romero, MD, FAAFP. “Screening infants for early diagnosis and intervention is lifesaving.  The dedication among the work group, partner hospitals and public health demonstrates a sincere commitment to infant’s health and reducing infant mortality in the Commonwealth.”

Babies are screened for CCHD using a pulse oximeter. The screening is simple, quick and painless. A sensor wrapped around the baby’s right hand or either foot measures the amount of oxygen in the baby’s blood.

“I am pleased to be helping VDH with this grant,” said Paul Matherne, MD, MBA, Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Virginia Health System and medical advisor for the project. “Diagnosis of CCHD before a baby leaves the hospital is essential, and Virginia is helping create the standards for the rest of the country.”

The pilot project evaluates the infrastructure needed to incorporate CCHD screenings in hospitals, the incidence of CCHD found prior to hospital discharge in Virginia and the outcomes of those babies screened that required additional diagnostic tests and evaluation.                                            

Critical Congenital Heart Disease Screening

Here are the hospitals participating in the project during the first year:

  • Augusta Health—Lisa Schwenk (540)-221-7329, Michelle Sprouse (540)-332-4364, Jan Botkin (540)-332-4360
  • Martha Jefferson Hospital—Jenn Downs (434)-654-8252
  • Rockingham Memorial Hospital—Monica Strong  and Anne Lowery (423)-716-8515
  • University of Virginia Health System – Eric Swensen, (434)-924-5770
  • Virginia Baptist Hospital—Susan Brandt (434)-200-4731, Maureen Puckett (434)-200-5621
  • Winchester Medical Center--Jane Hisey Smith (540)-536-2007

For more information about CCHD, visit

Last Updated: 02-11-2013

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