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March of Dimes Award


Lab delays exposed by media

In 2014, the March of Dimes created a new award to encourage timely laboratory action of newborn screening results provided by state laboratories across the United States. The award is named the Dr. Robert Guthrie Newborn Screening Quality Award, and it is a direct result of an outstanding investigative newspaper series, “Deadly Delays” by The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The March of Dimes asked me to create this video of my father’s early work, which was shown when the first award was given to the Arizona Department of Health Services at the organization’s national convention. Arizona was credited with greatly improving turnaround time of blood spots from hospitals to the state lab.

It was taking too long for the samples to be screened for life-threatening and time-sensitive disorders .. so we set a goal of getting 95% of the samples to our Lab within three days by July 1, 2014. When we started the project back in December 2013 we were receiving 67% of our samples in 3 days, 20% in 4 days, 9% in 5 days, 4% of the samples took more than five days to get to our lab, said Will Humble, M.P.H. Director Arizona Department of Health Services. “By the summer of 2014, the lab was receiving 99% of newborn bloodspot specimens within three days with an average transit time of just 1.38 days in June,” Humble wrote in the director’s blog.

My father was a big reader of newspapers wherever he traveled. At home, we had two daily newspapers delivered to our suburban Buffalo home, back in the day of two-newspaper cities. Every Tuesday, he would stop and buy The New York Times for the Science section, and every Sunday after church, we stopped at a local store to buy The New York Times, put aside in his name, along with a bagful of one-cent pretzels, shaped like cigars. While he carefully reviewed the many sections, I pestered him for the non-existent comics section while smoking my pretzel cigar. He was a big believer in the power of the press and a major influence on my decision to pursue journalism. Although he would have cringed at the labs’ “deadly delays,” he would have lauded the newspaper’s efforts to undercover and expose this failing by a government agency charged with protecting the public’s health.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel investigative series highlighted the problem of blood samples not being timely analyzed by telling the personal stories of babies who developed intellectual delays because of bureaucratic delays. The reporters told stories of newborn screenings’ success and failures through families contacted around the country; some babies flourished, others died or suffered irreversible damage. Colton Hidde is one.

“When hospitals hold onto blood samples for a few days, or a lab is closed on the weekend, this can lead to deadly delays for newborns,” Edward McCabe, MD, March of Dimes chief medical officer, said while presenting the Dr. Robert Guthrie Newborn Screening Quality Award.

Dr. McCabe contacted me before the organization’s 2014 national convention and asked if I could put together a one-minute video describing my father’s early work in newborn screening. I replied I didn’t think I could explain my dad or his work in anything less than 30 minutes, maybe not even 30 days. In the end, I managed to write, narrate and provide historical photos for a two-minute video. I also learned how to read a teleprompter! It was filmed by a professional crew at the Washington State Department of Health, Office of Newborn Screening that uses this logo that I’ve always liked. My video had great editing by Chris Lima, audio visual specialist at the March of Dimes. Feel free to share it.

Written by Patricia Guthrie.

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