Listen to the full audio here.
Photo by Sarah Freiseis
(Informational Materials Provided by The March of Dimes Foundation)
November 17th, the Central VA March of Dimes gathered in Richmond to announce Virginia’s pre-term birth report card grade. The results put Virginia at a “D”, 15th out of the 50 states, which as a nation also received an overall grade of "D".
Jennifer Yeager, a Central Virginia March of Dimes Board Member, said preterm births are a nationwide epidemic, and although Virginia got a low grade, it was an improvement over last year.
"Virginia did receive a 0.6% decrease in the amount of preterm births over the year, so that did help improve our rating, which is almost a C, so we're getting close, we're at 11.3%," she said.
She said the grading system was bringing the issues of preterm births to the forefront.
"There is a lot of education and awareness that needs to be continued, we're hoping that we can attribute to improvement of preterm rate awareness, making health care facilities and doctors aware of that 39 week requirement, that's part of the grade, insuring as long as possible babies are making it to the 39-40 week mark."
Yeager said at the individual level there is resounding directive to keep mothers informed about what they can do to ensure the healthiest pregnancy possible.
"Smoking during pregnancy, if we can reduce that, uninsured, getting the prenatal care that they need, as well as avoiding those inductions and cesarean sections that aren't necessary, they are not medically needed, they are done on a voluntary basis, if we can reduce those, that would make a huge difference."
Tammie Shatzer, a Registered Nurse with VCU Health System in Pediatric Intensive Care said most of the babies that are preterm are generally admitted to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), even if it’s just for observation. She said once the preterm newborns have been released from the hospital, many of those infants experience problems and need to be readmitted, at which point they come to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit or PICU.
“There are a plethora of long term effects, anywhere from breathing problems, chronic bronchitis, asthma, BPD which is a little more serious, they can outgrow that, but it can be deadly, feeding problems, eating, digestive problems, developmental delays for life, growing issues, the list really just goes on and on.”
Shatzer said a day on the job is a very real representation of what happens to these babies as they grow up.
“Some of these NICU babies, that have these severe developmental delays and issues, sometimes we see them up until twenty one,” she said. “Some of these patients spend most of their lives with us, I’ve been in the ICU for nine years, and there’s kids I’ve known since they were a couple months old, and they’re nine now.”
Stephanie Zocco, a former Pediatric Care Unit Registered Nurse at VCU Health System, said the consequences of preterm births are enumerable.
“First and foremost would be the economic burden it has on health care, I would also say the financial and economic impact it has on families, they obviously have to be taking off work to be in the hospital with their children,” she said. “Another long-term effect is that children are likely to be behind developmentally, which is going to effect their education, and the likelihood of educational advancement, and lastly I would say the long term effect that children will be admitted time and time again into the hospital, again going back to the financial and emotional impact it has on the family.”
Angela Davis, the Central Virginia Division Director for The March of Dimes Foundation, said it’s essential to express how devastating preterm births.
“I think its important for everyone to know that prematurity is serious disorder in our country, it ranks amongst cancer and heart disease as one of the leading disorders in our country,” she said. “It costs our country 26 billion dollars a year for children that were born prematurely.”
She said The March of Dimes mission is to improve the health of babies, and part of that is helping people understand the issues connected with pregnancy.
“There is a huge misconception about children that are born prior to 39 Weeks, that if they’re six pounds or five pounds then they’re okay. What they have found in recent years through research is that a child’s brain does a significant amount of developing between 34 weeks and 39 weeks of gestation, 60% of its growth is done at that time,” she said. “When you deliver prior to that time, you are compromising the brain development of the child.”
Davis said the goal number chosen for the Preterm Birth Report Card system is an aspect of a greater objective that goes hand in hand with the March of Dimes.
"The 7.6% goal is Healthy People 2010, which is something that is established by the CDC not the March of Dimes,” she said. “But we do work closely, are office of governmental affairs works closely with legislators on Capitol Hill as well as our state legislators in issues like this.”
Prematurity continues to be a serious health problem and Virginia certainly has room for improvement.