Blood drop test saves babies' lives

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PHOENIX -- On the outside they look healthy, but for thousands of newborns, what's on the inside is deadly. There is hope, however, thanks to a newborn screening program. A single drop of blood is giving doctors insight into the baby's future.

Whenever 9-year-old Grant Hall wants a snack, he has to calculate a complicated math problem. Everything he eats is not only weighed but also logged.

"Most of my foods come from special companies that make food for people like me," Grant said.

While Grant looked like a healthy newborn, a genetic disorder known as PKU was inside his little body. 

"He can't break down a lot of the protein that we eat," his mom, Ann Hall, explained.

Because Grant can't metabolize an essential amino acid, "We have to actually do the job of the liver by weighing out and measuring all the foods," Hall said.

PKU is one of 29 disorders detected in a test using just one drop of blood.

"These children look perfectly normal and you would not detect them without this technology," said
Dr. Stephen Amato, the metabolic consultant to the State Newborn Screening Program.

Doctors draw the blood from a newborn's heel. All the samples are then entered into the newborn screening program at the state lab. By analyzing one drop of blood, the March of Dimes estimates thousands of newborns in the United States are saved every year.

And timing is everything, as Amato points out, "If we don't detect those early, the child could be dead in a week or two."

Without this blood test, Amato believes, "Our infant mortality rate would go up. The number of children with special needs would increase significantly."

Grant is now in third grade and thriving. His parents realize just how lucky they are.

"By about 3 months, undiagnosed he would have had severe brain damage and that's if he would have lived," Hall said.

On Saturday, April 14, the March for Babies begins at 7 a.m. at the Wesley Bolin Plaza.