BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - Every day more than 160 babies are born in Alabama. Each year more than 200 of them are diagnosed with a genetic, metabolic or other congenital disorder through the newborn screening tests.
“The important is that initially these babies are not sick, but the defect can be picked up the blood, and if you catch it early enough, you can then treat them or monitor them real closely,” explains Dr. Wahib Mena. He’s a Neonatologist at Brookwood Baptist Medical Center, and wants all parents to know about the benefits of the tests.
“Some of these diseases can be cured completely by picking it up early, some of them can be controlled very well, some of them can be controlled in a decent way, some of them are not, but you can then prepare and find out what’s going on with the babies,” says Mena.
The test is a heel prick, with five spots of blood sent to a lab to check for anything from blood disorders to cystic fibrosis and anemias. There is also a hearing screening, and pulse oximetry screening to test for critical congenital heart disease. The Alabama newborn screening panel includes 31 of 35 disorders recommended by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It’s done within the first few days of a baby life, allowing for diagnosis and treatment to begin within weeks.
It’s a state public health program but is not mandatory. Doctor Mena says he hopes all parents will have the tests for their newborns.
“The way I put it is, If I went ot the doctor and the doctor had a test to do today that told me in 5 months you will have a heart attack,” says Dr. Mena “Because this test proved it, we can prepare and treat it and prevent that heart attack.”
If untreated, the conditions screened for can cause serious illnesses, developmental disabilities, or even death. Dr. Mena says the benefits of finding out early about an illness can greatly improve a person’s quality of life.
“An example is if a baby has a thyroid hormone and you don’t pick that up early then the brain doesn’t develop normal and the baby will have a lifetime of problems. But if you do pick it up and supplement the hormone then the baby will have a completely normal life,” says Dr. Mena.
Click here to learn about Alabama’s Newborn Screening test.