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Newborn Test Can Be A Real Life-Saver

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ROCKY MOUNT — Rates of birth defects and infant mortality in North Carolina can be alarming. But on one front, our state leads the nation in ensuring that infants are healthy.

When Daniel Flynn was just a few days old, his mother, Kathleen, got a frightening phone call. A doctor told her Daniel had a rare metabolic disorder called M-CAD.

"I'm sleeping and the phone rings and all of a sudden he's telling us this. I'm scared, my husband's scared. I call my mother and she's scared," she says.

Daniel's body cannot break down fats for energy. If he goes more than a few hours without eating, he could slip into a coma, or worse.

"I could have woken up one morning and gone to his crib and he would have been dead. That's what scares me," Flynn says.

Doctors diagnosed Daniel using a test called newborn screening. Nurses collect a blood sample before the baby goes home from the hospital. It is tested for more than 30 metabolic disorders -- illnesses that are manageable if they are caught early, but deadly if they are not.

"If it wasn't for the newborn screening, anything could have happened. So I thank God for it," says Flynn

North Carolina is the first state in the country to test all babies for metabolic disorders.

"This is the first chance we have to identify a disorder that is number one, treatable, and also manageable," says Susan Weavil of the North Carolina Department of Health.

Samples are often tested the day they arrive. That means babies can get crucial medical help within a few days of birth.

"Every minute that you don't know is a minute that could lead to developmental disabilities or delays, " says Susan Weavil of the North Carolina Department of Health.

Daniel Flynn takes medicine twice a day, and Kathleen feeds him every five hours to keep his blood sugar up. He will always have M-CAD, but because it was detected early, he can live a normal, healthy life.

The state has performed newborn screenings on every baby born here since July 1997. The test is free, but because of budget cuts, the state may have to start charging parents in the near future.