Dear Secretary Sebelius…

Dear Secretary Sebelius…

June 29, 2011

The Honorable Kathleen Sebelius
Secretary, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
200 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20201
RE: Recommendation for Newborn Screening for Critical Congenital Heart Disease

Secretary Sebelius,

Please accept this note of thanks again for your diligence – and that of your committees – in evaluating the recommendation of newborn screening for critical congenital heart disease.  While many do not have the capacity to lobby directly on issues such as this, I hope that is not misinterpreted as a lack of intense interest or advocacy.

If you aren’t yet aware, something in the neighborhood of 40 states now have grassroots online community pages focused on implementing routine pulse oximetry screening for newborns.  The recent movement of New Jersey, Maryland and other states toward this standard of care has started a significant state-by-state groundswell of support.  Many providers, payers and policy leaders have been hopeful that the federal guidance surrounding this important screening would happen in a timely fashion – giving states a leg up in their own implementation efforts.

As I write this, Minnesota (with a strong, aggressive pilot program) is starting to screen 15,000 babies this year.  New Jersey is poised to act on its legislative mandate – but without any clear guidance or standard protocol to assist.  We’ve shared our Minnesota protocol and educational materials, and will continue to do so with any healthcare institution, system or public health department that asks.  But the point is, there are hospitals and states eager to adopt this standard, prove its efficacy, and strip away the few remaining uncertainties that can only be answered through real-world implementation.

Right now, babies are getting discharged from hospitals every day with a hidden disease that could take their lives.  At best, the missed diagnosis of newborns with CCHD results in surgical compromise, neurological impairment, developmental delay, organ failure, and long-term feeding issues…all at huge costs to the healthcare system.

We all know pulse oximetry is considered the 5th vital sign. It’s routinely done on any adult with the slightest ailment or injury.  But somehow babies, who just ventured into this world and are breathing oxygen for the first time ever, should not have a pulse ox check before discharge?  Even if you take screening for CCHD out of the equation, this is a standard of care that is long overdue in the newborn nursery.

Physicians, hospitals and advocates clearly understand the importance of early detection of newborn diseases and disorders in saving lives and reducing healthcare cost burdens associated with late diagnosis.  It’s also a huge issue for our rural and underserved populations – who will continue to fall through the cracks if this simple point of care evaluation does not become a standard of care.  I have included a spreadsheet with just a small, but recent, survey of families impacted by CCHD (1in100_Informal Survey Responses_0111).  I am just one mother – and that fact that I personally know every family responding speaks volumes as to the need for this simple point of care screening.  In addition, I got this note just yesterday:

My baby went 4 and half weeks undiagnosed despite our complaints of poor eating, and breathing strangely! He saw 4 different pediatricians, after the two he saw in the hospital and no one    bothered with a pulse ox because I was a first time, very tired mother. He nearly died in our arms 3 days after his one-month check up! Inexcusable!!! What is the extra expense of babies like Gunner who then was so critical required a life flight and weeks of life support? Had the defect been caught initially, our entire family could have endured less trauma. Thank God we still have him and he is healthy, that is ONLY because of God’s grace. I know there are too many others who are not so lucky. ~Dana

I am confident that the work of the ICC (Interagency Coordinating Committee) will provide you an “action plan” that addresses your concerns and fills in the stated infrastructure gaps. In the 90 days allotted for this task, 1,000 additional babies will have died from Congenital Heart Disease.  The situation is grave.  The #1 cause of death in infancy in the U.S. is congenital anomalies, and the #1 cause of death from anomalies is congenital heart disease. Secretary, on behalf of my daughter Eve and 40,000 babies born each year with heart defects, I urge you to leverage your leadership and expertise in public health to advance this recommendation to the benefit of newborns throughout the United States.

With appreciation,


Annamarie Saarinen, 1in100

cc: Senator Amy Klobuchar
Congresswoman Betty McCollum
Know More. Do More.

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4 Responses to “Dear Secretary Sebelius…”

  1. Great! I’m going to link to it on pulse ox advocacy, let me know if that’s not okay.

  2. Always OK Kristine! Thanks again for your advocacy…

  3. Crystal Watts 12. Jul, 2011 at 5:26 am

    I am blessed to be Jacob and Aidan Baker’s aunt. These boys are so special to me! I think what Kathy and you guys are doing is so wonderful!! How can I help? Jacob has changed the way we all look at this crazy world we live in. There is hope and answers out there, it’s just getting the right people to do the right things. I’ll be praying for all of you!