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Fla. Urges Newborn Blood Sampling

January 29, 1999

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) _ Rona Kay Cradit left the maternity ward with a baby boy, a wonderful keepsake set of his footprints and a sealed pouch with a stain of the infant’s blood.

It may not fit the romantic picture of starting a new life, but Florida authorities are encouraging hospitals to offer parents a DNA sample from their newborns _ just in case the children are ever kidnapped, killed or otherwise need to be identified.

It is believed to be the first such program offered to newborns in the country.

``Obviously it’s something you don’t want to think about,″ said Cradit, whose son, Mickey, had a few drops of blood taken from his heel moments after his birth.

``You just got this precious little life and you don’t want to think about it being snatched away from you,″ she said. ``But from my perspective ... why not have it? It could help bring closure to an awful situation.″

The newborn DNA program is a product of one of those unthinkable situations: the abduction, rape and dismemberment of 9-year-old Jimmy Ryce of Miami.

Traces of Jimmy’s body were found at the home of ranch hand Juan Carlos Chavez, who was convicted last December in the boy’s slaying. Authorities had to use DNA samples from Jimmy’s parents and compare them to the traces of his body to get a positive identification.

DNA contains genetic information that makes each person unique. With the exception of identical twins, everyone’s DNA is different, in the same way fingerprints differ.

The samples, currently available in at least eight Florida hospitals, cost about $1.40 per child for materials. Most facilities are offering the service for free.

The idea has been well received by new moms wherever it’s been offered.

``Out of the initial 500 kids they had, only two (parents) turned them down,″ said Linda McDonald of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which help set up the program.

The sampling is done by pricking the baby in the heel, usually in the delivery room. A couple drops of blood are put on a piece of specially treated paper. That is then sealed into a bag and given to the parents. There are no other samples held by police or the hospital, McDonald said.

Cradit, who wrote the literature for the DNA pilot program at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital, says the blood stains are not meant to replace the tender footprints so many parents enjoy for keepsakes.

``But as far as really being a reliable means of identification, baby footprints probably aren’t the best,″ Cradit said. ``If that was all you had to use to try to make an ID on a child that was 10 years old, it won’t be real good.″

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