Parents of boy with heart condition call for mandatory screening

Malvern Gazette: Naomi West and seven-month-old Benjamin Naomi West and seven-month-old Benjamin

THE parents of a baby boy with a rare heart defect who could have died if the condition was spotted just hours later have called for a procedure checking for the problem to be made compulsory for all newborns.

When Benjamin West was born on Tuesday, October 15 2013 at Worcestershire Royal Hospital to proud parents Naomi and Andy, everything seemed to be fine.

But when the newborn developed a stomach upset three days later Mr and Mrs West visited Redditch’s Alexandra Hospital, where consultant paediatrician Dr Taruna Bindal sent him for a pulse oximetry test – a simple procedure measuring the amount of oxygen in the blood.

It was then that baby Benjamin was diagnosed with transposition of the great arteries with ventricular septal defect and mild pulmonary stenosis – a condition affecting fewer than one in 3,000 children in the country.

He was rushed to the cardiac unit at Birmingham Children's Hospital and six hours later was in theatre having an emergency balloon atrial septostomy procedure to improve his oxygen levels, which were dropping by the hour.

Brain damage starts to occur once levels drop below 50 per cent and by the time Benjamin went into theatre his blood was dipping below 60 per cent.

Three days later he underwent a five hour open heart surgery.

Mrs West from Bromsgrove said if the condition had gone even a few more hours without being spotted Benjamin could have been left brain damaged or dead.

“At just three days old Benjamin's was referred to as ‘late diagnosis’ case because his condition was not picked up when I was pregnant despite two separate hour-long ultrasounds, specifically looking at his heart development and also having been discharged from hospital following newborn checks,” she said.

“Now seven months old he is a happy and thriving little boy and we cannot thank the staff at Birmingham Children's Hospital or the Alexandra Hospital enough for saving his life."

Now Mr and Mrs West are calling on Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust – which runs Worcestershire Royal Hospital and the Alexandra Hospital as well as Kidderminster Hospital – to make pulse oximetry testing compulsory for all newborn babies.

“If this had been available to us Benjamin would have been much safer, more stable and we would have not had to go through the terrifying experience we did,” she said.

“We were incredibly lucky but our story could have ended very differently.”

The trust’s divisional medical director for woman and children Dr Andrew Short said doctors in the county only carry out the procedure if it is suspected a newborn may have a heart condition.

He added a pilot scheme in which all newborn babies in six different regions in the UK - not including Worcestershire - was set to be launched later this year.

He said: “In the meantime we are preparing to start formal ‘baby-check’ clinics in a designated room on the post natal ward which will be equipped with a pulse oximeter so that this can become a routine part of the baby check in the future.”

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