Newton mother advocates blood oxygen testing for babies

Staff Photo: Erin Evans
Jessica Hatcher, shown here with son Wyatt, is campaigning for newborn babies to have a pulse oximetry measurement which could reveal congenital heart defects.

Staff Photo: Erin Evans Jessica Hatcher, shown here with son Wyatt, is campaigning for newborn babies to have a pulse oximetry measurement which could reveal congenital heart defects.

Newton County resident Jessica Hatcher is on a mission -- to ensure that every newborn baby receives a pulse oximetry measurement before he leaves the hospital. The test, which involves placing a small device on the finger, monitors blood oxygen levels. It can reveal heart defects that would not otherwise be apparent, she said.

"The pulse ox is cheap, non-invasive and quick," Hatcher said.

The 30-year-old mother of three is compelled to pursue a campaign requiring the test because of her own experience with congenital heart disease. When she gave birth to her son Wyatt two years ago, the left side of his heart did not function.

In Hatcher's case, doctors knew about the problem while Wyatt was still in the womb. But that's not true with all heart defects, Hatcher said. Some parents bring their babies home and the heart stops working without warning, she said.

According to the March of Dimes, about 35,000 infants, or one out of 125, are born with heart defects in the United States annually. Heart defects are the most common birth defects and the leading cause of birth defect deaths.

After two years of intense medical procedures, Wyatt is healthy, but the Hatchers struggle daily to keep him thriving. Hatcher sees it as her duty to not only help her son live as long as he can, but to prevent other parents from experiencing the unnecessary death of their babies.

"This didn't happen to Wyatt and this didn't happen to us for absolutely no reason," Hatcher said.

When Jessica and Kevin Hatcher learned their new baby might have a heart defect they assumed it would be similar to what Kevin had experienced as a child -- a blockage that could be repaired with surgery.

The cardiologist who examined Hatcher during her pregnancy told them differently. Doctors diagnosed Wyatt with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, a congenital condition in which the left side of the heart does not develop completely.

"It was the worst day ever," Hatcher said.

Doctors offered three options. Let Wyatt live as long as he could, which would be days. Perform surgeries which might allow him to live until the teen years, at which time he'd receive a heart transplant. Or perform an immediate heart transplant.

The Hatchers chose the surgeries, though they didn't get Wyatt much beyond his first year of life.

At about age 1, Wyatt showed symptoms of being sick -- a bad cough and vomiting. After four rounds of antibiotics failed to yield recovery, doctors suggested further testing. Wyatt suffered from congestive heart failure. Doctors placed him on a waiting list for a new heart.

"They told us there were no more surgeries. At this point, the only option for him was somebody else's heart," Hatcher said.

After six months of waiting, Wyatt underwent a heart transplant on Sept. 17, 2010, at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta's Sibley Heart Center, where he spent 10 days in recovery. He performed "amazing" through the procedure, said his mother. The heart is a "perfect match," she said.

"He is the child he should have been all along. He is walking now. He is playing. He has tons of energy. He has the perfect pink color. And he is growing. He's gained 6 pounds," Hatcher said.

Hatcher said doctors predict the transplant will last about 13 years. She's hoping that during that time new medical procedures might be discovered to make the heart perform longer. Second and third transplants are not out of the question, she said.

Meanwhile, Hatcher is enjoying Wyatt, and her two other sons, Cohen, 14 months, and Aubrey, 8.

She's also making time to press elected officials to listen to her story about why pulse oximetry measurement is important at birth.

Hatcher is a mentor to other families with children who have similar heart issues and she serves as co-chair of Heart Friends, a fundraising group for the Sibley Heart Center.

"These people gave me my baby back. I had to do something to give back," she said.

To learn more about the campaign for pulse oximetry measurement, visit www.1outof100.org.