Deaths of babies born with congenital heart disease prompts call for more prenatal scans

Babies with life-threatening congenital heart disease are more likely to survive if their mothers have had access to high quality ultrasound scans, new research by Auckland University's Liggins Institute shows. 

Fewer than half of those babies born with congenital heart disease are diagnosed before birth.

"There's probably about four babies each year that would die as a result of a late diagnosis cardiac disease," Dr Elza Cloete of the Liggins Institute told 1 NEWS.

Dr Cloete says the difference in survival rates is largely because early diagnosis gives parents time to get help.

She wants scans done more often in the third trimester.

"We have very effective surgeries available to correct these anomalies. So if we know about it we can do a lot for these babies. But the period before birth is absolutely critical, so if we cannot intervene then some of these babies will unfortunately die."

By the time he was nine days old, baby Frank had undergone four heart surgeries.

He was born with the rare heart defect where the two main arteries are the wrong way around.

The condition was first picked up during a routine antenatal scan at 20 weeks.

"We had always thought it was something that everyone would find out prior to birth," Emma Bramwell, Frank's mother said.

Before Frank was born, Ms Bramwell was transferred from Wellington to Auckland's Starship Hospital which has the country's only child heart surgery centre.

"If they'd not found it he wouldn't have any oxygenated blood travelling around his body, going to his brain. Who knows how long that would take to be picked up," she said.

"He's doing fantastically. He's just like a normal little baby, puking and doing all those other things that little babies do."

The researchers are now stressing the importance of better access to scans for all expectant mothers, so babies like Frank have a better chance at life. 

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New research shows access to New Zealand’s only child heart surgery centre helps prevent deaths, but so too does early detection. Source: 1 NEWS

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