Rebecca Weissinger said she and her husband, Mark, initially noticed some differences between Owen and his older brother Theo, but nothing they were too concerned about.
“He slept a lot,” she said. “At first he was a great eater, but after a few days, he started to have trouble.”
When Owen was four days old, his parents took him in for a routine well-child checkup to make sure that he hadn’t lost too much weight. During that appointment a nurse performed a simple test that Rebecca Weissinger credits with saving Owen’s life.
“The first thing the nurse did was put on a pulse oximeter,” she said. A pulse oximeter is a sensor that is strapped on a baby’s foot to measure the saturation of oxygen in the blood. “In a healthy person, it should be close to 100 percent,” Weissinger said. Owen’s was only at 70 percent when he was happy, and it dropped dangerously to 30 percent when he cried.
Owen was eventually flown to Denver, Colo., where he was diagnosed with a congenital heart defect. At 10 days old, Owen underwent open-heart surgery. He will celebrate his first birthday this month, and though Weissinger said he still has a few more surgeries ahead of him, his prognosis is good.
When Weissinger heard that Utah Rep. Paul Ray was introducing legislation that would require a pulse oximeter test for newborns before they are discharged from a hospital or birthing center, she looked for a way to help support the proposal. She is currently circulating a petition in support of the legislation.
“Right now the American Heart Association is trying to get this mandated in all 50 states,” she said
Weissinger points out that most hospitals already have the equipment required for pulse oximetry testing, it’s non-invasive, and estimates put the test at around $1 to $3. “It’s no worse than taking a temperature or something like that,” she said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, congenital heart defects account for nearly 30 percent of infant deaths due to birth defects. Not all are critical, but the CDC estimates that nearly 300 babies are discharged from hospitals each year with an undetected critical congenital heart defect. This can put them at risk for serious disability or death.
The American Heart Association says new research “suggests wider use of pulse ox screening would help identify more than 90 percent of heart defects.” Several states, including Maryland, Indiana and West Virginia, have already passed legislation requiring the testing.
On Feb. 1, Utah lawmakers will meet with members from the American Heart Association for “Heart on the Hill Day,” Weissinger said. During that session, several pieces of legislation will be introduced and Weissinger plans to deliver her petition to lawmakers on that day.
“We had to make so many decisions that no parent would ever want to make,” Weissinger said of her son’s time in the hospital. “Sedation, intubation, stomach pumping, surgery ... You say yes to it all because that was Owen’s chance at life. For the legislators, this is their chance to say yes and give that opportunity to other babies in Utah. So I hope they say yes.”
Weissinger’s petition is currently posted at Moonflower Market in Moab.