HeRO system protects babies from illness before symptoms show

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by JANET ST. JAMES

WFAA

Posted on November 30, 2012 at 6:40 PM

Updated Friday, Nov 30 at 11:45 PM

FORT WORTH -- Little Gus Burns has stolen his mother's heart. But, it was his heart that almost gave out when he was born 39 days ago.

"He was purple and blue when he came out," said Alicia Burns, Gus' mother. "He was not getting all the oxygen it needed. And it was terrifying."

Gus had to have open heart surgery, which puts him at high risk of infection. A new technology, called the HeRO system, can predict if he'll get sick before he shows any signs.

The HeRO system detects minuscule changes between heart beats.

"This machine looks for very subtle differences in the heart rate that lead us to believe these babies might have an infection or might have a problem," explained Dr. Jonathan Nedrelow, a neonatologist in the Cook Children's NICU. "So we can treat them before they might even have symptoms."

Cook Children's in Fort Worth is the only hospital in the state and one of only 20 in the nation using the system. The program was funded through philanthropic donations.

Doctors say the HeRO saves lives and money in two ways: with early intervention and by preventing unnecessary treatment to babies like Gus, whose HeRO scores are normal.

"If a heart rate difference is normal, then we can often say, 'Well, I don't think this baby needs a lot of lab tests, I don't think this baby needs to go through the pain of these tests, et cetera,'" Dr. Nedrelow said.

"On the other side," he continued, "we think earlier treatment of an infection would result in better outcomes and babies going home sooner, and that certainly saves money and is the right thing to do."

Parents enjoy the benefits, too.

"We're able to go home and sleep better at night and come back knowing that if something was going to happen, they're already on top of it," Alicia said. "It's great."

When Gus finally gets to go home, his HeRO score will provide peace of mind for his parents that he really is healthy.

E-mail jstjames@wfaa.com

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