LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Ten-year-old Cole Klein sat matter-of-factly before a Nebraska health committee on Thursday and told lawmakers about his golf game, his sometimes-annoying little brother and his love of recess.
Then he turned to a more serious subject: The three open-heart surgeries he has endured, and the stent in his pulmonary artery to buy him time before he has to face a fourth.
Klein and his mother, Tiffany Mytty-Klein, were among a handful of advocates who urged lawmakers to support a bill that would require congenital heart screens as a way to help spot potential health threats.
"Like many children born with a heart defect, it's difficult to know about our hearts by simply looking at us," the younger Klein said. "It doesn't matter if we're 10 years old or 10 hours old. Usually, it's only once we're really sick before somebody knows — and too many times, it's too late before anyone knows.
The bill was sponsored by Sen. Jim Smith, of Papillion. The Health and Human Services Committee will decide whether to advance the bill for legislative debate.
"Generally, I'm not one who supports government mandates, such as this," Smith said. "But after studying this issue and visiting with professionals and families impacted by (the disease), I became convinced that requiring screening is the right thing for us as a state to do."
Dr. Robert Spicer, the chief cardiologist at Children's Hospital and Medical Center in Omaha, told lawmakers that that the heart condition is the most common birth defect in newborns. It also can lead to cardiogenic shock and death if undetected.
Spicer said eight out of every 1,000 children born in the U.S. have a form of congenital heart disease. In many cases the disease doesn't create a serious health risk, but 1.2 of every 1,000 children suffer from a life-threatening form of the disease.
Smith said the test costs relatively little and helps avoid costly medical complications for children later in life. Six states have either adopted the screenings for newborns or an in the process of doing so.
The bill would require a panel of experts to develop ways to screen the newborns and develop educational materials. It also would require hospitals to collect and report data about the tests. The combined cost to the state would reach more than $140,000 in the state's next two-year budget, including a one-time expense of $50,000 to develop a record-keeping system.
Sen. Mike Gloor of Grand Island, a former hospital administrator, questioned the need for collecting the heart-screening data. Spicer said the information may be used to gauge whether the tests are performed effectively.