Last September, a young Yakima mother named Andrea Jackman gave birth to a daughter named Olivia. But the baby’s entry into the world wasn’t the joyful occasion that a new mother expects. That’s because a few months into the pregnancy, Andrea was confronted with the news that her daughter’s brain and spine were not as closely connected as they should be. She had, in fact, the most severe form of spina bifida.
Andrea wasn’t only heartbroken — she was blindsided. She’d had no idea her pregnancy might be liable for this condition. And it only got worse when the ultrasound doctor explained what it meant—that her daughter would be in a wheelchair all her life, most likely in a vegetative state.
Andrea is only one of an unprecedented number of mothers in Yakima, Franklin and Benton counties who have had babies with grave birth defects. And doctors are baffled by what might be causing it, NBC News reported.
‘A Heart-Breaking Condition’
Along with spina bifida, there have been several cases of anencephaly, a condition where babies are born missing parts of their brain or skull. The typical, national rate of births with this condition is 2.1 per 10,000 live births. Between 2010 and 2013, these three counties have seen quadruple that rate — 23 cases in just three years. Added to that are three cases of spina bifida, like Olivia Jackman, and one case of encephalocele, which is when the brain protrudes through the skull.
The mothers of these children certainly weren’t aware of the bigger picture — they were more occupied with taking care of their children. But Sara Barron, a nurse at Prosser Memorial Hospital on the Yakima River, began to notice this trend of birth defects. In 30 years, she’d seen only one or two cases of anencephaly.
“And now I was sitting at Prosser, with 30 deliveries a month and there’s two cases in a six-month period,” she told NBC News.
Barron learned from talking to another doctor that yet another case was on its way. She heard of still more cases at a regional medical meeting. Finally, she notified state health officials about the trend.
‘Something Is Going On’
Investigators from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, along with state and federal health inspectors, have been looking into medical records of the 27 women with affected pregnancies, along with 108 matched controls who received care at the same clinics where the babies were born. They examined the mothers’ lifestyle and medical history, where their water came from, race and financial demographics.
In the end, the state officials declared that there were “no common exposures, conditions or causes” that could explain the cluster of incidents. Sometimes, it’s just coincidence, CDC health scientist Jim Kucik told NBC News.
But Barron is not convinced.
“I definitely believe something is going on,” she said.
At the very least, she says, women in the area should be notified of the larger problem, and possible ways to prevent more babies from falling prey to this condition.
For example, according to Allison Ashley-Koch, a Duke University Medical Center professor who focuses on anencephaly, says environmental exposures raise the risk of diseases like this.
In particular, research has shown that there are potential links between anencephaly and exposure to molds or pesticides — a common factor in central Washington’s agricultural environment. Exposure can come not only from food, but from the presence of pesticides in the air or in drinking water.
What’s more, alerting the area to the trend could help motivate pregnant women to preventive action, such as taking sufficient folic acid, a B vitamin that helps prevent spina bifida.
But CDC and state officials refused to release the number of cases they’d been called to investigate, saying they plan a full report later this spring.
Need Help? Call Us Today.
The team at Perey Law have seen more than their fair share of birth defect and injury cases. Our experience can help you seeking justice for birth conditions that have happened due to malpractice and negligence. Contact us today at 206-443-7600 for a free, no-obligation consultation, to learn what your rights and resources are. We are ready to fight on your behalf.