Tracie Line Detwiler, NNP, takes an oxygen reading on Shane Rocco Mariano in 2007 for her research project.

Courtesy photo

Tracie Line Detwiler, NNP, takes an oxygen reading on Shane Rocco Mariano in 2007 for her research project.

Monday Medical: Newborn oxygen study nets results

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Neonatal nurse practitioner Tracie Line Detwiler will present “Newborns at Altitude” at 6 p.m. Thursday in Yampa Valley Medical Center’s conference room 1. Parents whose newborn babies were part of the oxygen saturation study are especially invited to attend.

— More than three years have gone by since we wrote about Yampa Valley Medical Center’s newborn oxygen study in this column.

And a lot has happened since November 2007.

The Monday Medical article went well beyond Northwest Colorado, prompting numerous calls from other hospitals to YVMC neonatal nurse practitioner Tracie Line Detwiler. Eventually, six hospitals and hundreds of families participated in the research.

Line Detwiler started the study to discover the exact, measurable relationship between altitude and oxygen saturation in a newborn baby’s bloodstream.

“When I first started working at YVMC in 2000, I noticed we were sending quite a few newborns home on supplemental oxygen,” Line Detwiler said. “I had previously worked at sea level, where home oxygen use was not as common. My question was, ‘What is normal at this altitude?’”

Line Detwiler discovered that there was no published research that related specifically to Steamboat Springs’ altitude. After contacting researchers, neonatologists and pediatricians, she enlisted Dr. Patricia Ravert, a nursing educator at Brigham Young University in Utah, to lead a new scientific study.

The study grew to include six hospitals in mountain communities in three states at altitudes ranging from 4,498 feet in Provo, Utah, to 8,150 feet at Vail.

An overwhelming majority of local parents endorsed the effort. Line Detwiler said YVMC tested 325 babies born here between October 2007 and September 2008 with enthusiastic parental permission.

Now that the results from all six hospitals have been tabulated, Line Detwiler is ready to present the information and explain its significance. Her talk, “Newborns at Altitude,” will be Thursday evening at YVMC.

Line Detwiler hopes the data will influence future hospital and at-home care standards for infants born at moderate altitudes, especially those who have underdeveloped lungs or other health challenges.

Research involved testing healthy newborns. Parents provided permission for hospital to take an oxygen-saturation reading two or three times during the newborn’s hospital stay.

“The process we used was painless, non-invasive and anonymous,” Line Detwiler explained. “We collected a full year of data here because we wondered whether oxygen levels were affected by season due to barometric pressure.”

As hospitals continued to join the study, the overall data collection period spanned 2 1/2 years and involved 812 newborns.

Line Detwiler will reveal the numbers this week in her presentation. She and Ravert, with the assistance of YVMC Diabetes Education Program Director Jane Dickinson, Ph.D., also have submitted the study results for publication in a professional journal.

YVMC plans to post a brief summary of research results on its website this month.

“The reason we pushed for this scientific research and its publication is that we want it to benefit the worldwide scientific and medical community, not just our little corner of Northwest Colorado,” Line Detwiler said.

“The American Academy of Pediatrics and American Heart Association are considering new guidelines for newborn care that are linked to oxygen saturation levels,” Line Detwiler noted.

“We are hopeful that our study could play a role in care standards for all babies born in the Rocky Mountain West and at similar altitudes around the country or even the world.”

Christine McKelvie is public relations director at Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at christine.mckelvie@yvmc.org.

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