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Preemie Baby is Now a Strong 9-Year-Old Girl

This column originally ran in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Nov. 5, 2007.

Each year in the U.S., more than 500,000 babies are born prematurely, the leading cause of birth defects and infant death.

That statistic hit home in 1998 for Charles and Charise Jackson of O’Fallon, Ill., when their daughter Alauna was born at 26 weeks of gestation, or 14 weeks short of full-term.  Alauna weighed just 2 pounds, 7 ounces at birth, and spent a combined two months in the Neonatal Intensive Care Units (NICU) at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center and Belleville Memorial Hospital.

“I remember being scared, because when they came to get Alauna with the ambulance I knew it was grim and she might not make it,” Charise Jackson recalls.  “Every day I had to live with the knowledge that she might not survive.”

While Charise remained at Belleville Memorial for a week because of a blood clot in her leg, she was unable to visit her new daughter at Cardinal Glennon.

“I called every day to check on Alauna, and the nurses at Cardinal Glennon knew I was crying and worried about her,” Charise Jackson says. “There was one nurse there who took pictures with her own camera and drove them to me in Belleville so I could see how my baby was growing.”

Today, Alauna is a happy 9-year-old, a vibrant member of Ms. Neighbors’ fourth-grade class at Hinchcliffe Elementary School in O’Fallon.  Two years ago, she was diagnosed with chronic kidney disease. Alauna sees a renal specialist regularly and is on medications to control the condition, her mother says.

On Nov. 16, the Jacksons plan to bring their daughter to Cardinal Glennon to meet with Dr. Gregory Mantych, the neonatal physician who was primarily responsible for her care there.

Dr. Mantych says he looks forward to seeing Alauna again.

“It’s great to see children like Alauna come back years later to let us know how they’re doing,” Dr. Mantych says. “They’re part of your family when they’re here as patients in the NICU, and they remain a part of your family when they go home.”

Sadly, many babies born prematurely are not as fortunate as Alauna. During an average week in Missouri, 194 babies are born prematurely.  Of those, 112 babies are born to mothers who received inadequate prenatal care, 168 babies are born to teen mothers and 12 babies die before reaching their first birthday. Premature birth is the leading cause of death for babies who die before their first birthday.

Research and prevention of premature birth is a point of focus for the March of Dimes, the organization that led the charge to wipe out polio so many years ago.  Tomorrow, the March of Dimes will gather to recognize 20 area radio stations that participate in “Radio Broadcasters for Babies,” an annual program that creates awareness of premature birth.

Unfortunately, the number of premature births continues to rise.  The rate has increased by more than 30 percent since 1981.  In half the cases, the reason for premature labor is not known.  But doctors do know that if a woman does not smoke, eats a good diet, takes vitamins with folic acid, and gets proper pre-natal care, there is a better chance that the baby will get its full nine months.  Smoking by the mother is the leading preventable cause of premature birth.


Dr. Bob Wilmott is Chief of Pediatrics at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center and is a Professor of Pediatric Medicine at Saint Louis University School of Medicine. 


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