WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Bill Frist (R-TN), members of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, today announced unanimous Senate passage of the Prematurity Research Expansion and Education for Mothers who deliver Infants Early or PREEMIE Act – a bill Alexander introduced along with Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-CT) in April 2005 to improve education for expectant mothers, to provide better treatment for babies who are born too early, and to expand research on premature births.
“On average, 214 babies are born prematurely each week in Tennessee. We simply do not know why half of these babies are born preterm and this legislation will help solve that mystery,” Alexander said. “It will also help us reduce the number of premature births and take better care of babies that do arrive too soon.”
"I appreciate the dedicated leadership of Senators Alexander and Dodd in addressing the rates of preterm labor and delivery. Their work will help reduce the disabilities and infant mortality that far too often result from these conditions. It's with pleasure that I asked the Senate to unanimously pass this important legislation,” Frist said.
“I commend the U.S. Senate for approving the PREEMIE Act,” said Dr. Jennifer L. Howse, president of the March of Dimes. “I particularly thank the bill sponsors, Senators Alexander and Dodd, and Chairman of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pension Committee Mike Enzi for their leadership in bringing the bill to a vote in the Senate. This measure sets the stage for expanding federal support for much needed research into the causes of premature birth.”
Statistics from the March of Dimes, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Tennessee Department of Health show that Tennesseans have cause for concern:
· More than 1,300 babies in the U.S. are born prematurely each day, and the cause of nearly 50 percent of all premature births is unknown;
· Tennessee has the fifth worst rate of preterm birth in the country;
· On average, 214 babies are born preterm each week in Tennessee;
· 11,118 babies were born preterm in Tennessee in 2003 – one in every seven babies;
· Preterm birth was the number one cause of infant mortality in Tennessee in 2004; and
· Preterm birth accounted for 19 percent of all infant deaths in Tennessee in 2004.
Whitney Jordan from Memphis, Tennessee, was born at 25-and-a-half weeks, weighing 1 pound, 10 ounces. She spent three months in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Her parents, Kelly Bolton Jordan and Sam Jordan, have praised the Preemie Act, saying, “After six months on oxygen, one year on a heart monitor and more medical tests and evaluations than we like to remember, Whitney fortunately has no long-term effects from her prematurity, other than the scars on her chest from tubes to help her breathe. These scars remind us daily of her suffering and her fight to live. When Whitney was born, we had no answers for why she was preterm. This bill gives us a good chance to find those answers.”
The PREEMIE Act will help mothers, babies, and families in Tennessee and across the country by increasing research into the causes of preterm birth and improved treatments and outcomes for babies who are born prematurely. Specifically, the PREEMIE Act calls for:
· Expansion and coordination of prematurity research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
· Studies on the relationship between prematurity and birth defects and developmental disabilities.
· A grant program to educate health professionals and the public on signs of preterm labor and to provide support for parents with a premature baby in a neonatal intensive care unit.
· A Surgeon General’s conference on preterm birth which will establish an agenda for prematurity related activities in both the public and private sectors.
The companion bill, H.R. 2861, must now be approved by the House before the PREEMIE Act, S. 707, can become law.