Abu Dhabi, UAE: Saeed looks up with a toothy grin as he crawls across the carpet with his favourite toy truck.
It is obvious that his parents, Mohammed and Khadeedja Al Rashdi, have a happy, healthy one-year-old – but not so obvious why.
A mandatory screening programme for newborns, introduced by Health Authority Abu Dhabi (Haad) in January last year, saved their little boy’s life – and that of seven other babies – by detecting congenital heart problems that may have otherwise gone undetected.
Khadeedja, speaking from her home in Baniyas, said she had a normal and healthy pregnancy and no idea her first son had a heart defect when he was born on January 31.
“I was so happy holding my baby in my arms for the first time and never noticed a suspicious thing about him,” said Khadeedja, 25.
“The physician came into my room and did the examination, and then asked me to take him for further investigation.”
Saeed had a positive pulse oximetry test and was taken to the neonatal intensive care unit for monitoring and further investigation.
The tests showed he had a congenital artery imbalance that led to a lack of oxygen.
Saeed needed surgical intervention and was immediately referred to Sheikh Khalifa Medical City.
“It was an emergency case, so we had to take him to another hospital to save his life,” said Mohammed.
In a nine-hour operation, doctors performed a successful catheter operation to increase the level of oxygen to Saeed’s heart.
“I thank God that the operation had positive results,” Khadeedja said.
“He is just like another kid. He likes to play all the time, listen to stories and is naughty at times.
“I am happy that doctors told us about his conditions from the beginning and my baby was taken good care of. The mandatory screening test is very beneficial.”
Saeed now needs a check-up every four months.
The examination, which is covered by insurance and carried out at all birthing centres in the emirate, checks for congenital heart defects by using a light probe on the baby’s right hand and right foot, which measures the level of oxygen in the heart’s red blood cells.
If the level is less than 95 per cent, or if there is more than a 3 per cent difference between the results from the hand and foot, the test is repeated three more times every hour.
The three-minute procedure conducted on the day after birth is 95 per cent accurate.
It replaced the previous physical examination of pulse and breathing rates that missed almost half of heart-defect cases.
Haad is the first health authority in the Arabian Gulf to introduce it.
“I hope all mothers respond to any tests their doctors ask for because it is for the wellbeing of their children, and children are the future,” Khadeedja said.
A Haad spokeswoman said: “Most of the newborns who have congenital heart disease look completely normal when born. It could go completely undetected until a child starts to show some symptoms of it later on in life.
“The beauty about pulse oximetry is that it is a simple, non-invasive, painless test that measures the oxygen saturation and pulse rate to detect any potential condition in a newborn baby within the first few days of it being born.
“All of the maternity hospitals have done a wonderful job in implementing the programme.”
Congenital anomalies are the leading cause of infant deaths in the emirate.
Most babies who leave hospital with undetected serious heart defects die within the first two weeks, but the survival rate for children with heart disease who receive surgery is 98 per cent.
© The NationalFeb 2013