Life-saving pulse-oximetry machines to help babies in the Western Isles

NHS Western Isles has received six pulse oximetry machines, thanks to the generous support of parents Ruth and Finlay Macleod, and Tiny Tickers, a charity that aims to improve the early detection and care of babies with serious heart conditions. These monitors, which can help detect serious heart conditions soon after birth, will be used to help improve early detection rates of congenital heart disease (CHD) in babies.  

Newborn screening for CHD involves a simple bedside test called pulse oximetry. This test estimates the amount of oxygen in a baby’s blood. Low levels of oxygen in the blood can be a sign of CHD. The test is carried out using a machine called a pulse oximeter, with sensors placed on the baby’s skin.

These pulse oximetry machines will be used by paediatricians and midwives when a baby’s first physical examination is undertaken, or if a baby’s condition means that they require additional observations. Pulse oximetry testing is not a mandatory part of newborn screening in the UK and Tiny Tickers aims to end the postcode lottery, by placing these machines across the UK.

The six monitors were donated to NHS Western Isles as part of the charity’s Test for Tommy campaign, which aims to ensure that all newborns receive the test that could help save their life, and were generously funded by Ruth and Finlay Macleod in memory of their son, Finlay Eric. Finlay Eric was born with a congenital heart defect, which was undetected during Ruth’s pregnancy and after his birth. He became critically unwell on the 31st of May 2021 when he was four and a half months old, and deteriorated in a matter of hours.  Despite the tireless efforts of many medical professionals, his condition could not be stabilised, and he passed away that night with his heartbroken mum and dad by his side.

Finlay Eric Macleod

Ruth and Finlay say, “Our devastating experience in losing our beautiful boy, and our subsequent attempts to understand more about congenital heart conditions, guided us towards the lifesaving mission of Tiny Tickers. In Finlay Eric’s precious memory, we will do what we can to support this charity in achieving their ambition of improving the early detection of congenital heart defects.

“We have been overwhelmed, humbled and strengthened by each donation received, and we want to wholeheartedly thank all who have supported us. The funds raised have enabled the gift of hope to be given to babies and their families both locally and nationally, by supporting the work of Tiny Tickers.” 

A baby is born with a serious heart condition every two hours in the UK. However, not all congenital heart defects can be detected during routine prenatal scanning and some babies are at risk of falling into the early stage of heart failure if their condition is not diagnosed in time. Tiny Tickers wants to change this situation. 

Tiny Tickers’ CEO, Jon Arnold says, “We have been overwhelmed by the fundraising efforts of Ruth and Finlay and the incredible response of the whole community. We’re a small charity working hard to help health professionals diagnose and treat serious heart defects in babies, and this support will make an enormous difference to our work. I’m very pleased that the funds raised will go directly into projects that train sonographers and provide equipment that helps with detection – all of us involved in Tiny Tickers are determined to ensure that Finlay Eric’s legacy benefits as many babies as possible. I can’t thank his family, their friends and the entire community enough.”

Catherine Macdonald, Head of Midwifery, NHS Western Isles, says, “We are delighted to have received the very generous donation of pulse oximetry monitors from Tiny Tickers, which will be distributed to Maternity Services across the Western Isles. The monitors will enable us to start screening all babies delivered within the Western Isles for potential cardiac anomalies, as well as giving us the opportunity to monitor, as required, any babies that give cause for concern. We hope to embed pulse oximetry checks into newborn examinations from July or August this year, following staff training. We are grateful to Ruth and Finlay Macleod for championing this campaign locally and the community who have so generously donated to their fundraising.  Always in our hearts is baby Finlay Eric.”

Katie Lawson (Tiny Tickers), Finlay & Ruth Macleod (Finlay Eric’s parents), Marion Henderson (Midwife), Dr Elliad Ali Banda (Paediatrician), Dr Frank McAuley (Medical Director) and Karen Macleod (midwife).

Elaine Macmillan, Health Visitor, adds, “NHS Western Isles Health Visiting Team were devastated, along with the local community, at the passing of baby Finlay Eric last year. As a team it is important to us to honour his memory and promote a legacy of hope and positivity out of his tragic loss. Tiny Tickers supplies us with the Think HEART leaflet which we now distribute to and discuss with every family when we visit their newborn baby. Learning how to spot the signs of a heart defect early can help save a baby’s life and improve their long-term quality of life. This additional resource educates and empowers professionals, parents and carers in the early identification of a potential heart defect in a newborn baby.”

Ruth and Finlay have now raised £28,752.78 in memory of their son. They are dedicated to ensuring babies born with CHD, particularly those in remote locations, receive a diagnosis as soon as medically possible. As well as funding these machines, their support will enable the charity to create new digital fetal cardiac training courses for sonographers, to complement the existing face-to-face training offered by the charity. These new courses will aim to improve the skills and confidence of sonographers in achieving the required screening views and, therefore, to further improve antenatal detection rates for CHD. This project will particularly benefit sonographers working in remote locations, who may not be able to attend face-to-face training sessions.

Finlay Eric’s fundraising page can be found here and donations are always welcome to continue supporting the work of Tiny Tickers.