Health & Science

11-year-old’s School Project Inspires Infant Heart Screening Bill

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Savannah Marquez, a 6th grader from Sarasota, Florida, is making waves in the Tallahassee legislature after completing a school project on infant cardiac screenings. Savannah’s project was motivated by the first tumultuous weeks of baby brother Nico’s life.

Nico was born with a congenital, life-threatening heart defect called transposition of the great arteries, where the aorta and pulmonary arteries switch places while the fetus is developing in utero. The condition lowers the baby’s oxygen levels after birth, but the symptoms aren’t always apparent right away. Babies with this condition can have normal coloration and breathing, which can prompt medical staff to send the family home without screening the infant for heart issues. 

Thanks to the cardiac screening policy at Sarasota Memorial Hospital, Nico was screened and his heart defect was identified immediately. He underwent open-heart surgery at six days old and is now a happy and healthy four-year-old with a doting big sister, and two very relieved parents, Nicole and Mark. 

However, Sarasota Memorial Hospital’s screening policy is the exception rather than the rule in Florida. When Savannah learned that her state is one of the very few that does not require infant cardiac screenings, she decided to do what she could to raise awareness and put together a presentation on the topic.

Last year, her project won a blue ribbon at her 4-H club, and since then she’s been sending letters to lawmakers to spread awareness of the issue. Earlier this year, State Senator Joe Gruters met with Savannah and her family, and in October he drafted a bill that would require all hospitals in the state to provide infant cardiac screenings.

Savannah’s message to lawmakers and constituents alike is clear, cardiac screenings save lives. “My little brother, he’s really important to me and without the test he might have passed away. Everything would be so bland and dark without him,” she said. 

Nicole Marquez is encouraging other Floridians to get involved by contacting their local legislators. She has even provided a contact email for those with questions about the issue. To learn more, reach out to her at [email protected]

Mckenna Saady is a staff writer and digital content lead for ParentsTogether. Before working for nonprofits such as the Human Rights Campaign and United Way, Mckenna spent nearly a decade as a child care provider and Pre-K teacher. Originally from Richmond, VA, she now lives in Philadelphia and writes poetry, fiction, and children’s literature in her spare time.