Heart abnormalities are the most common birth defect in newborns. The technology to screen for these heart defects has been available for years. But now doctors are warning that not enough physicians are using them... and that's costing the lives of too many babies.
Looking at 6 month old Spencer Gilman, you would never know he had already undergone more surgeries than some people have in a lifetime. That's because before he was even born, doctors found a defect in spencer's heart.
Katherine Gilman/Mother:"His tri-cuspid valve didn't form properly, so he essentially has a three-chamber heart instead of a four-chamber heart. I was just so distraught. I really thought, is he going to survive? Is he going to make it until he's born?"
But Spencer is actually one of lucky ones... doctors were able to identify the condition during his mother's 21 week pregnancy ultrasound. So just days after he was born, surgeons were already prepared to fix the valve... the first of three surgeries to repair his heart.
Dr. Philip Spevak/Pediatric Cardiologist: "If we have a baby come to us soon enough and it's recognized early enough before they get sick, most of the heart disease we take care of have great outcomes.
Dr. Philip Spevak specializes in pediatric cardiac imaging at johns hopkins children's center. he says of the hundreds of babies born with heart defects each year, only half will be diagnosed before they leave the hospital.
Dr. Philip Spevak: "If they are already getting very sick, the horse is out of the barn, so to speak."
That means they can end up with brain damage, organ failure, or dead. Spevak says there are simple measures to improve early diagnosis and the first step is doing a thorough prenatal ultrasound exam.
Dr. Philip Spevak:"Screening ultrasound picks up pretty easily diagnosed abnormalities, but it sometimes misses heart disease."
Other measures include educating doctors about symptoms and giving all newborns pulse oximetry tests... a tool that measures blood oxygen levels, which can indicate whether the heart is pumping properly.
Dr. Philip Spevak:"It's cheap. It's relatively effective."
Katherine Gilman says she's just thankful that doctors were able to diagnose spencer early. He's expected to make a full recovery.
One out of every 100 babies will be born with some sort of congenital heart problem.