Gov. Haley Proclaims January as Birth Defects Prevention Month in SC

Pahis family2January 25, 2012 – "We thought we had done all the right things, and this was going to be the best time in our lives," recalls Stacie Pahis of Anderson when reflecting on her first pregnancy. "But it was by far the worst experience ever." Stacie and her husband, George, received the news during a prenatal ultrasound that their baby had a neural tube defect. Neural tube defects (NTDs) are severe birth defects of the brain and spine and are a focus of the SC Birth Defects Prevention Program, based at the Greenwood Genetic Center (GGC).

"Most neural tube defects are preventable by taking 0.4 mg per day of folic acid," explains GGC's Jane Dean, RN, Statewide Coordinator for the Prevention Program which is currently in its 20th year. "But these problems occur very early in pregnancy, often before a woman knows that she is expecting. So, folic acid needs to be taken both before and during pregnancy. "

Some women, like Stacie, have a genetic change that prevents them from processing the folic acid properly, requiring an even higher dose of the vitamin. "It seemed like such an easy solution to a very severe and tragic event in our lives," she shared.

Governor Nikki Haley has proclaimed January as Birth Defects Prevention Month in SC to encourage individuals to take the necessary steps to ensure that every baby has a healthy start. The official proclamation was signed on Tuesday. (See video of the proclamation presentation.)

South Carolina once had the highest incidence of NTDs, such as spina bifida and anencephaly, in the nation. Now, thanks in part to the SC Birth Defects Prevention Program, a partnership between the Greenwood Genetic Center, the Centers for Disease Control and the SC Departments of Disabilities and Special Needs, Health and Human Services and Health and Environmental Control, that rate has dropped by 58% over the last 20 years. This success translates to an annual healthcare savings of $15-20 million. But more importantly, because of folic acid supplementation, there are 60 healthy babies born in SC each year who would have otherwise been affected with an NTD.

The SC Birth Defects Prevention Program was launched in 1992 and was one of two model programs in the US. One of the primary goals of the program is to reduce the incidence of NTDs by educating women that dietary folic acid supplementation, found in over-the-counter multivitamins and prenatal vitamins, can prevent most of these defects. The program also monitors NTDs across SC, provides folic acid to high-risk women, and educates health care providers, students and the general public about the importance of folic acid supplementation for all women of childbearing age.

After losing her first child to an NTD, Stacie enrolled in the folic acid program at GGC which includes taking higher doses of folic acid before and during each pregnancy. Stacie and George have since had two healthy boys, 5 and 3, and have a daughter on the way this spring. "It has been a difficult journey but we are so grateful that Jane and the entire Greenwood Genetic Center was so accessible," expressed Stacie.

Dean spends much of her time counseling and supporting families who have been impacted by NTDs. She also provides school and community group presentations and attends health fairs and bridal expos to share her message of birth defects prevention. "Half of all pregnancies are unplanned, so it is vitally important to educate all women who could potentially become pregnant on the importance of folic acid." said Dean.

Stacie's advice to future parents: "Take folic acid everyday! I can't stress how important it is to the development of your baby. It's a simple way to help ensure a healthy baby."

The work of the GGC and the SC Birth Defects Prevention Program is supported by the SC Birth Defects Foundation. Additional information is available by contacting Dean at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or  1-800-676-6332.

Haley Group 2012

L-R: Dr. Kathi Lacy (SC DDSN), SC Rep. Anne Parks, Dr. Katie Clarkson (GGC), Dr. Roger Stevenson (GGC), SC Gov. Nikki Haley, SC Rep. Gene Pinson, Jane Dean (GGC), Nancy Clary (SC DHEC), Valarie Bishop (SC Developmental Disabilities Council) and SC Sen. Floyd Nicholson

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