More than 60,000 babies are born every year in Alabama, most of them perfectly healthy. All of them are screened for more than 40 disorders and conditions, making early diagnosis and treatment possible, and extending their lives in many cases.
Wednesday, the March of Dimes publicly praised and awarded the Alabama Department of Public Health for its work in screening newborns.
Mark Miller is a new father who is counting his daughter's screening as a blessing, even after she's gone.
"You live your life everyday wondering if this is it," Miller says. His daughter was born with a congenital heart defect. Her name? Mary Beth.
The little girl's initial diagnosis in the NICU was dire. "They didn't think we'd make it past 8 years, and they were right," Miller explained.
It's a condition every newborn is now screened for, as of just a few months ago.
"We made it mandatory in mid-June," said Alabama Chief Health Officer Dr. Don Williamson. "This test identifies 7 primary cardiac defects and 5 secondary cardiac defects," he went on.
The screening wouldn't have changed the diagnosis for Miller's daughter, he admits. "It's not going to cure anybody. It's not going to solve their problems. It's not going to make their condition go away..."
But Mary Beth's early diagnosis, and early treatment, gave her father time to spend with his little girl. "I got 7 Father's Days," Miller said, his voice cracking with emotion," and I 8 birthdays with my daughter."
Miller counts himself blessed. "We've watched family after family, not even get close to having what we've had. Some of them made it 2 weeks, some of them made it 6 months, some of them made it 10 years."
They're more reasons Miller worked so hard to make the screening mandatory, and just since June, it's already making a difference for more families.
"So far we've already identified 4 infants with primary defects and another 6 with secondary defects," Dr. Williamson says. "That's 10 children, some of whom will live a normal life because of the screening."
"Mary Beth always had a purpose behind this," her father says. "Her purpose came true in June and is coming true today."
"We are making the future of Alabama better," Dr. Williamson declares.
Critical congenital heart disease is a condition that comes with very few visible symptoms and could be easy to miss. This screening is done with a simple blood test soon after the baby is born.
Last year, 162 newborns were identified with a primary newborn screening condition.
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