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Fetal Alcohol a “life sentence”

6 September 2009

Fetal Alcohol a “life sentence”

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is a “life sentence” that can be easily prevented by avoiding alcohol during pregnancy, says Hawke’s Bay District Health Board (HBDHB) paediatric nurse and mother of an FASD sufferer, Lisa Smith.

Mrs Smith, together with other FASD parents and clinicians, are manning an education booth in the Hawke’s Bay Fallen Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital foyer this week to coincide with International FASD Awareness Week. The week will end with an official service in the hospital foyer at 9 minutes past 9am on 9 September (Friday).

“The importance of 9 is that it represents a 9 month pregnancy – alcohol free,” says Mrs Smith who adopted a baby boy with husband Nigel 18 years ago in the United Kingdom.

“We couldn’t have kids but managed to adopt this adorable little boy, totally unaware he had suffered from alcohol exposure in the womb,” she said.

“We realised very early on in his development that something wasn’t right and the impact has been devastating – we love our son and understand that the way he acts is not his fault, but FASD is honestly a life sentence for the child and the family unit.”

International research estimates that around 1 in 100 children have FASD. Warning signs include behaviour that is impulsive and easily distracted, poor memory, immaturity, difficulty learning form mistakes, confused social skills as well as speech and language delay to name a few.

Mrs Smith says raising awareness about FASD to help other sufferers and, more importantly, educate women about the devastating effects alcohol can have on the unborn child, is a priority.

“FASD is 100% preventable by abstaining from alcohol throughout pregnancy. Despite myths, there is no scientific evidence available that sets a ‘safe’ amount of alcohol that will not affect the unborn baby.

“When a pregnant woman drinks alcohol, so does her baby,” she said.

HBDHB’s Developmental Assessment Programme (DAP) provides multi-disciplinary diagnostic assessments of children with complex developmental and behavioural concerns. One component of the DAP is a FASD Assessment Pathway for children with developmental and behavioural issues potentially related to prenatal alcohol exposure.

HBDHB paediatrician and quality manager, Dr Russell Wills, will speak about the impact of alcohol on children at Friday’s service.


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