A hyper-realistic doll is helping specialists to detect potentially life-threatening heart defects in babies before they are born.
Hospitals in Scotland are among the first to use the “situs” doll after a charity found that using it in training helped sonographers to accurately capture images of tiny hearts during pregnancy scans.
Tiny Tickers, a national charity that provides training to sonographers and campaigns to increase early detection rates of cardiac conditions in babies, has now launched a national campaign to distribute the life-saving dolls to maternity units across the UK.
Each doll wears a T-shirt with an anatomical diagram of the heart on it, so sonographers can see where to put their scan probes to capture the five required views of the heart.
Every year around 6,000 babies are born with a serious heart defect in the UK. Currently, heart defects in babies are picked up either during the 20-week pregnancy scan or through physical examinations after birth.
While detection rates have doubled in the past 20 years in the UK, just over 50 per cent of defects are picked up during pregnancy. More than 1,000 leave hospital with undetected heart conditions.
Anne Rhodes, head of training at Tiny Tickers, said: “At 20 weeks the heart is the size of an acorn. Ensuring it functions and is in the correct place is complicated and depends on a variety of factors. The doll helps to see which way the heart should be pointing and demonstrate where the scan probe should be over the heart to obtain all five required views,”
Backed by experts, Tiny Tickers is also campaigning for routine testing of oxygen levels in every maternity unit to check newborns.
The pulse oximetry test for low oxygen levels is currently not mandatory in the UK.
CEO John Arnold said: “There have been improvements in diagnosis, surgery and treatment in recent decades, but all too frequently we hear from families who haven’t had a positive outcome, including babies whose CHD has only been detected after their deaths. We still have so much more to do to ensure no baby dies before their heart defect is spotted.”
To support the campaign a £10 donation will fund a doll to be sent to an NHS hospital. Dolls can be named after a loved one.