Weekly Column of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander - “Solving the Mystery of Premature Babies”

Posted on August 7, 2006

Each day in the United States, more than 1,300 babies are born prematurely. Each week in Tennessee, 214 babies are born preterm. We do not know why half of these babies are born too soon, and last week, the U.S. Senate unanimously approved my legislation to help solve that mystery. The Prematurity Research Expansion and Education for Mothers who deliver Infants Early or “PREEMIE Act,” which I introduced along with Senator Christopher Dodd of Connecticut in April 2005, expands research on premature births, improves education for expectant mothers, and provides better treatment for babies who are born too early. Through the “Healthy Children” initiative my wife Honey and I initiated when I was governor of Tennessee, our state achieved one of the lowest infant mortality rates in the state’s history. Unfortunately, these rates are on the rise again, and there are strong links between preterm birth and infant mortality. 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. For example: •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; •11,118 babies were born preterm in Tennessee in 2003 – one in every seven babies; and •Preterm birth was the number one cause of infant mortality and accounted for 19 percent of all infant deaths in Tennessee in 2004. The PREEMIE Act, which has the full support of the March of Dimes, will help mothers, babies, and families in Tennessee and across the country by increasing research into the causes of preterm birth and improved care 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, to research improved treatments and outcomes for premature babies, and to provide support for parents with a premature baby in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). •A Surgeon General’s conference on preterm birth which will establish an agenda for prematurity related activities in both the public and private sectors. Whitney Jordan from Memphis, Tennessee was born at 25-and-a-half weeks, weighing one pound, 10 ounces. She spent three months in the hospital. 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.” Too many babies like Whitney are born too early and too small. We need to do all we can to ensure the full-term delivery of healthy babies in Tennessee, and the PREEMIE Act is an important step in that direction. # # #