Olivia Easley gave birth to her third child on April 26, 2009. The baby appeared pink and healthy, nursed well and had gained weight by her first doctor's visit.
But when the baby, Veronica, was about 6 weeks old, she started having difficulty nursing, seemed to be in pain and began vomiting. Her pediatrician thought it might be reflux and suggested that Easley, a physician from Bethesda, Md., who works for the Food and Drug Administration, change her diet.
When things hadn't improved a few days later, Easley scheduled another trip to the pediatrician. That evening, she put Veronica down for a nap after nursing her. Easley heard a bit of crying about an hour later and then silence. Going into the baby's room to check on her, Easley found Veronica flipped onto her stomach. She turned her over - and discovered that her child was not breathing.
"Finding her dead - it's unimaginable," Easley said. "I felt like the floor was ripped out from under me - suddenly floating - you want to escape, and this must be a horrific nightmare. Just seconds before, my life was great and now I'm in hell, and how did this happen?"
Veronica Easley, the medical examiner said, died of total anomalous pulmonary venous connection (TAPVC), one of the heart defects that make up critical congenital heart disease.
"The medical examiner said it was amazing she lived seven weeks," Easley said. "I was relieved they found something on autopsy, but when I learned more of her condition and that it could have been fixed, I got really angry."
Here's why. As Easley did more research into her daughter's death, she learned that a pilot program had started just months earlier at Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring, Md. (Easley had delivered at a different hospital in the Washington area.) The program's goal was to screen every newborn with a simple pulse oximeter test that can help detect heart problems such as Veronica's, allowing doctors to respond. About 40,000 U.S. babies are born every year with congenital heart defects, 400 of them with the deformity that killed Veronica.