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Premature births to draw research team probe

Kevin Bracy calls July 9, 2001, a “bittersweet” day – sweet because his wife delivered their son, Kobe; bitter because he was born three months premature and weighed only 2.5 pounds. PALO ALTO, Calif. – Kevin Bracy calls July 9, 2001, a “bittersweet” day – sweet because his wife delivered their son, Kobe; bitter because he was born three months premature and weighed only 2.5 pounds.

The birth of their second son exactly four years later quickly turned into grief for the couple. Kaleb, four months premature, weighed less than a pound and lived only an hour.

“As a dad,” Bracy told a recent gathering at Stanford University’s Li Ka Shing Center, “I’ve been in denial.”

Bracy was speaking at an event to launch a collaborative venture between the March of Dimes, a national nonprofit working toward the health of babies, and Stanford Medical School to shed light on one of the most elusive of medical mysteries – why some babies are born prematurely.

“Premature birth is common, serious and costly,” March of Dimes President Jennifer L. Howse declared.

One in eight children in the United States is born prematurely. Preterm birth is the number one cause of infant mortality. Recent studies seem to indicate that African-American women have higher rates of premature births than women of other races. Dr. David Stevenson, a neonatologist and professor of pediatrics at Stanford, said causes could include genetics and biology, as well as  environmental factors.

 Many preemies who survive past infancy face lifelong health problems, Howse said, at a cost to society of $26 billion a year.

“So we have an economic stake in solving this problem,” she said, adding,“The cost to families can’t be measured.”

The March of Dimes has contributed $2 million upfront toward the launch of the Prematurity Research Center and will provide support for the project through 2020.

Despite the serious health risks, doctors don’t know the cause of premature birth in nearly half of the cases.

Bracy is African American; his wife, Jessica, is white. Neither of them, he said, had the risk factors associated with parents of premature children, including stress, lack of education, or poverty.

Bracy is hopeful that the March of Dimes initiative will help identify the causes of preterm births that remain a mystery for families like theirs. “I just don’t want any other family to go through what we are going through,” he said.

Kobe Bracy spent the first two months of his life in an incubator and came home when he was just five pounds. He and his parents have been in and out of hospitals ever since.

“Even with health insurance, we get six-figure doctors’ bills,” his father said.

(Source: New America Media)

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