Infant heart defects detected at Traverse City‘s Munson Hospital are quickly treated with help of downstate cardiologists at University of Michigan and DeVos Children’s Hospital through telemedicine.

Sometimes a newborn looks fine and the baby’s heartbeat can sound okay even though the heart suffers from a life-threatening birth defect. If the baby doesn’t start to show signs of weakening during the standard 24-hour period to discharge, doctors can miss the heart problem and send the infant home, though the baby is getting weaker by the hour. Eventually parents notice their baby does not seem healthy, but by then the situation is likely to be much more serious because the baby is so depleted.

Fortunately there’s a simple test that helps identify infant heart problems, and it will become mandated statewide on April 1, 2014. The inexpensive test (just $5–$10) with a pulse oximeter, evaluates the oxygen saturation of the baby’s blood. If the oxygenation levels are low, physicians will order an echocardiogram of the heart to make sure nothing serious exists.

“Every hospital with a birthing center will have to do the screening, but Traverse City’s Munson is the only hospital in Northern Michigan that has the capability of performing pediatric-specific echocardiograms,” says Dr. Steve St. Charles, director of Munson Medical Center’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Making use of the latest technology, echocardiogram technicians at Traverse City’s Munson will be able to connect telemedically and work in real time with pediatric cardiologists on congenital heart teams, like those at the University of Michigan and DeVos Children’s Hospital, to evaluate the heart structures of newborns. If cardiologists do confirm problems, they can work quickly to stabilize the baby and develop surgical strategies before the baby weakens too greatly.

“Only one in five or six babies that fails the screening will actually have a heart defect,” St. Charles says. The echocardiogram with telemedicine capabilities is a nice service to Northern Michigan families, St. Charles says, because performing the echocardiogram in Traverse City saves most families from having to go downstate, which avoids the stress on the baby and shortens that anxious time when parents are wondering about their newborn.


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