March of Dimes gives Arkansas an 'F' for premature births

    9:19 PM, Nov 23, 2010   |    comments
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    Video: March of Dimes interview

    • November is National Prematurity Awareness Month
    • November is National Prematurity Awareness Month
    • Dr. Terrance Zuerlein, March of Dimes Arkansas Board Chair
    • November is National Prematurity Awareness Month
    • November is National Prematurity Awareness Month
    • Christina Stengal, mother of premature son

    Tuesday on Today's THV at 6:30 p.m., THV's Dawn Scott finds out what the state is doing to improve it's grade.  She interviews the March of Dimes' Shana Chaplin. 

    The number of Arkansas babies, born too early, is falling - but not enough to earn a better grade from the March of Dimes. Their annual premature birth report card gives Arkansas an "F."  

    Arkansas' pre-term birth rate dropped to 13.5 percent this year, but it still earned the state a failing grade on the report card. Folks gathered at the state capitol Wednesday to help bring awareness to the serious problem of premature birth.

    "It was just the scaredest I've probably been in my entire life. And it's one of those of experiences you would never ever want to go through and you would never wish on anyone," says Christina Stengel.

    Stengel gave birth to her son Alex just 25 weeks into her pregnancy.

    "He weighed just one pound nine ounces and was 12 and half inches long. And I'll never forget the doctors telling me he needed to weigh just a pound and a half to have a chance at life. He made it by one ounce," Stengel says.

    In Arkansas, 13.5 percent of babies were born too soon this year. Before their lungs, brains or other organs were fully developed.

    Dr. Terrance Zuerlein says in order to decrease that number, education must imrpove.

    "There's a lot of misinformation, and lack of information out there. A misunderstanding about pre-maturity," Zuerlein says.

    Prematurity is the leading cause of newborn deaths and babies who survive often face health challenges through out their lives. But Zuerlein says it helps if expectant mothers focus on a healthy lifestyle from an early stage.

    "Good health care leading up to the time of pregnancy is associated with a better outcome," says Zuerlein.

    Three years later, Stengel says she has still has concerns about her son's health.

    "We do have to worry about his lack of weight gain. And we want to make sure developmentally that he is staying caught up with his other peers," adds Stengel.

    And Stengel is thankful for all those who help families like hers.  

    "It was completely amazing to realize when you're going through that you don't know who all is involved. You just know you want your child to be saved," says Stengel.

    According to the Institute of Medicine, more than half a million babies are born prematurely each year. A serious health problem that costs the U.S. more than $26 billion annually.

    Babies who are born before 37 weeks gestation - are considered premature. The World Health Organization, defines normal term for delivery between 37 and 42 weeks.

    Eight states earned a better grade on the 2010 March of Dimes Premature Birth Report Card and 32 others and the District of Columbia saw their preterm birth rates improve.

    Overall, the United States received a "D" on the report card, when national preterm birth rates are measured against the Healthy People 2010 goals. The United States has a high rate of preterm birth compared to top scoring states and, notably, most industrialized countries.

    The March of Dimes says 12.3 percent of births in 2008 were premature compared to 12.8 percent in 2006. President Dr. Jennifer Howse calls that "very welcome news," although that rate is still far above the government's goal of 7.6 percent.

    The March of Dimes credits the improvement to a clamp down on doctors and hospitals that were scheduling elective deliveries, including inductions or first-time C-sections, too soon. Guidelines discourage such deliveries until 39 weeks of pregnancy.

    Even within the U.S., the rate of premature births can vary widely. In 2008, it was 9.5 percent in Vermont and 18 percent in Mississippi.

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