Tu'amelie Faingata'a was just hours old when the sensor that may well have saved his life was wrapped around his tiny foot.
Six days later Tu'amelie underwent open heart surgery to repair a defect that was starving him of oxygen.
The condition was detected by a simple screening device Auckland City Hospital had introduced in a pilot project just a fortnight earlier, to see if it could be rolled out for all newborns around New Zealand.
Silivia Faingata'a said her midwife suggested Tu'amelie have pulse oximetry screening, in which a small Band-Aid-like wrap with a sensor inside was placed around his foot.
The sensor measures oxygen in the blood, low levels of which can indicate heart defects in newborns.
"They did the test and found out that he (Tu'amelie) had low oxygen," Silivia recalled.
Her baby was quickly sent for a scan and X-ray.
Tests showed he had a transposition of the great arteries, in which the aorta is connected to the right ventricle, and the pulmonary artery is connected to the left ventricle — the opposite of where they should be.
The condition robs the body of oxygen-rich (red) blood. It is fatal, within days, if untreated.
"I was so devastated," Silivia said. "I was so scared. I cried my eyes out."
"(But) at the same time I felt so lucky that they picked up what was wrong with him."
Tu'amelie was treated for his condition and at six days old underwent asix-hour arterial switch operation to return his heart to a normal function.
Silivia said it was the longest six hours of her life. "I prayed a lot. I cried a lot."
Surgery was successful and after two and a half weeks in Starship children's hospital, Tu'amelie was allowed back to the family's Mt Wellington home.
He has had regular check-ups since, "and everything was fine".
Silivia says her son, who turns 2 later this month, is a happy, healthy boy who is very active and loves playing with his three older brothers.
"He's really brave. He's a little fighter."
Silivia, in her last semester of a bachelor's degree in social work, is grateful for the care and dedication of the medical staff who saved her son and supported her.
"Everyone was so helpful. The love they showed in doing their work was so overwhelming. I can't thank them enough for their hard work.
"I would say if it wasn't for their generosity, I wouldn't have coped with my son's situation because it was the first time for me to experience anything like that, with any of my children."
Silivia is also grateful the pulse oximetry screening which discovered Tu'amelie's condition had been introduced at Auckland City Hospital.
She said it should be available throughout the country.
"If the test saved my son, I think it will save more lives."
The pulse oximetry screening for the detection of critical congenital heart disease in newborn infants' pilot study began in April 2016 with funding from the Starship Foundation.
Around 15,500 babies have had the screening, at Auckland City Hospital and at Auckland, Counties Manukau and Lakes district health boards' birthing units.
The study, which finishes in the middle of this year, is investigating the feasibility of rolling screening out nationally – something Starship's national paediatric cardiac service director, Dr Tom Gentles, considers "really necessary".
Gentles, co-investigator on the study, said while it was apparent in some newborns with heart defects that they had low levels of oxygen in their blood – for instance, their skin colour not being normal – it was "much more subtle and difficult to detect" in others.
Pulse oximetry screening, which takes about 2 minutes and costs about $3-4 per disposable wrap – "less than a cup of coffee" – could indicate heart and also respiratory problems or infections in newborns.
Screenings in the pilot project had identified three infants with critical congenital heart defects and 40 more with other conditions including pneumonia.
Gentles said it was estimated around 80 babies are born with critical heart defects in New Zealand each year. Nationwide pulse oximetry screening could result in earlier diagnosis, giving a better chance of survival and lowering the risk of developmental problems for about 15 babies a year.
"No matter how good the before-birth ultrasound scanning is, there's always going to be a number of babies that aren't diagnosed that way, and the sooner they come to medical attention, the better for them," he said.
The Starship Foundation has invested or committed $1.2 million over the past 16 months into clinical research and innovation at Starship children's hospital.
Last year, $570,000 went towards supporting seven clinical research projects all currently underway, including the pulse oximetry screening project.