As new mothers are, Heather Eastman was exhausted after Owen’s birth.
It wasn’t until a week later that she reviewed the PSBC Biliary Atresia Home Screening Program stool colour card that was in her discharge package. She read the card and began checking Owen’s stool. Heather noticed that his stool colour matched one of the abnormal colours and contacted PSBC to arrange a follow-up. After testing, Owen was diagnosed with biliary atresia, a rare but fatal liver disease that affects newborns in the first month of life.
Abnormal stool colour is an indication that the bile duct is blocked, resulting in biliary atresia. Surgery can re-establish bile flow from the liver to the intestine, but if it is not performed within the first two months of birth, the effectiveness of the operation drops drastically from 80 to 20 percent. If the procedure is unsuccessful, the child requires a liver transplant to survive. And without any treatment, rapid progression of liver damage can lead to the child’s death by the age of two.
There are about three to five babies diagnosed with biliary atresia in BC every year. However, it is the most common cause for death among infants and children with liver disease and accounts for more than 60 percent of all pediatric liver transplants.
That is why early detection of this rare disease is so important. There is no single blood test for biliary atresia, so stool colour is the main tool for early detection. Through the Biliary Atresia Home Screening Program, parents are given a stool colour card that contains photos of normal and abnormal infant stool colours. They are asked to check their newborn’s stool colour against the colour card every day for the first month after birth. If the colour is abnormal, they call the program for follow-up.
Owen underwent the surgical procedure to correct the blockage when he was just five-weeks-old. And that saved his life. Owen is now an energetic baby, and his mother praises the stool colour card.
“Biliary atresia is rare, but it’s not so rare that it can’t happen to your baby,” says Heather. “There is no harm in being overcautious, but the consequences of waiting are significant.
"If I hadn’t checked Owen’s stool when I did," continues Heather, "he may not have been diagnosed until it was too late. My advice to new moms is to set aside some time to go through your newborn package and put the stool card beside the change table to remind you. It’s too time sensitive not to.”