Wisconsin lags behind other states in requiring simple infant test

CREATED Feb 4, 2014 - UPDATED: Feb 4, 2014

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OCONOMOWOC - Aiden Moody is an energetic first grader in Oconomowoc, but the 7-year-old almost died just weeks after he was born.

"Even the surgeon told us if we had waited even until the next morning, more than likely he would not have been with us," his mother Melanie explained.

Melanie believes her son would have been spared a childhood of daily medications, tube feedings, frequent doctor visits and developmental therapy if he had a simple test before leaving the hospital.  
"We would have had surgery within those first few days," Melanie said.  "He wouldn't have been deprived of oxygen, which could be why he has developmental delays."

It's called a Pulse Oximetry Screening, or simply 'pulse ox'.  A bandage holds a tiny probe on a baby's hand or food.  The painless, non-invasive test checks oxygen in the baby's blood.  It can be the first indicator that a newborn has a potentially deadly hidden illness.

Dr. Stuart Berger, Medical Director of Cardiology at Children's Hospital of Wisconsin, says babies can look healthy, but may have a hidden illness.  
"There may be some subtle findings that we can determine by pulse oximetry that wouldn't be determined by other methods," he said.

Dr. Berger believes the state should require a pulse ox test for all newborns.

"Our goal in Wisconsin is to have 100% of hospitals and 100% of babies screened because we will save lives," he explained.

Many states already mandate pulse ox tests before a newborn leaves the hospital, but Wisconsin lawmakers are reluctant.

Nicole Hudzinski is with the American Heart Association. 
"Wisconsin is falling behind a little bit on this one," she said.

Hudzinski has been trying to persuade politicians to pass a law, since the test can catch critical heart defects early. 
"I think that parental decisions are important in things like this and there is, at least in the legislation we're working on, the opportunity for parents to opt of the screening," she said.

Advocates blamed state Senate Health Committee Chair Leah Vukmir for blocking mandatory newborn pulse ox tests

Vukmir, who is also a registered nurse, argues that doctors, not politicians should make decisions on required infant screenings.  

"It's about better government, and making sure that this process and the decision and the recommendations are made by people who understand the research and people who really understand how the technology works," Vukmir told TODAY'S TMJ4 reporter Tom Murray.

The encouraging number for pulse ox supporters like Aiden's mom:  85% of Wisconsin hospitals voluntarily screen all newborns in their care--including all hospitals in the Milwaukee area.

"Early screening is important, so you can avoid those development delays in children like Aiden," Melanie said.

Advocates are optimistic about what they're seeing in Madison now.  Senator Leah Vukmir is pushing a bill that would give new authority to an existing panel of medical experts.  Those doctors could decide to make pulse ox tests mandatory.  Advocates are confident they would get a 'yes' from that panel.