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Gorham's Lemoine advocating for heart disease screening for newborns


September 14, 2011
GORHAM — A local woman who nearly lost her son to congenital heart disease is leading an effort to institute early detection screening of newborn infants. Jennifer Lemoine, of Gorham, wants all babies to have a pulse oximetry test — a simple, non-evasive blood oxygen test — before the mother and her child are released from the hospital.

"It's a simple test that can be done on newborns," she said, "It's a reliable indicator of congenital heart defects." Early detection can make all the difference, said Lemoine, a Sergeant with the Gorham Police Department. If a baby's heart problem goes unnoticed, it can flare up and cause severe sometime permanent problems brought on by denying oxygen to the brain.

Lemoine has formed a state group that is pushing for all birthing center's to screen babies. The procedure is so cost insignificant that it's not even a billable item for insurance companies. "It's cheaper than a diaper change," she said.

In June of 2010, Lemoine had what she thought was a healthy baby. She named him Ryan and ten hours later just before being released, an observant nurse at Memorial Hospital in North Conway suspected a problem. Ryan's breathing was irregular. Soon enough, her son began to turn blue, he was rushed to Maine Medical Center and underwent a three and a half hour open-heart surgery. Her son had a TGA — Transposition of the great arteries — but he was lucky, it was caught early, and his surgery was a success and he is doing well.

Lemoine wondered what would have happened if Ryan's TGA went undetected and they left the hospital. What if he started turning blue on the ride home to Gorham or even at home that first night? Time and oxygen flow to the brain are important. She began to research the condition and learned about the pulse oximetry test. "It seemed too simple," she said, "why aren't hospitals doing this?"

Lemoine has joined with another mother and they have formed an advocacy organization with a facebook page called "Pulse OX NH." Their work is drawing notice from important circles.

"Jennifer has done a fantastic job in raising awareness within New Hampshire about this important issue," said Abigail Rogers, Director of Program Services for the state March of Dimes, "The March of Dimes has worked extensively across the country to expand and improve newborn screening programs. Parent advocates are crucial to this effort."

Through her work, Lemoine has become re-acquainted with a former Gorham High School classmate, Jodi Tarantino, who had also had a similar experience with her baby. Tarantino's story was featured on CBS News. A recent study which was endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Cardiology Foundation and the American Heart Association recommend increased screening with pulse oximetry.

Locally, the Androscoggin Valley Hospital, a few weeks ago became one of the only state hospitals to use pulse oximetry testing. The Secretary of Health and Human Services is expected soon to make a decision on recommending that States add pulse oximetry to their newborn screening panels.

AJ Coleman
Varney Smith
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