January is Birth Defects Prevention Month
While January has been officially proclaimed by Governor Nikki Haley as Birth Defects Prevention Month, the Greenwood Genetic Center (GGC) works year-round
to educate future parents that the risk for many types of birth defects can be reduced through lifestyle choices and medical interventions before pregnancy.
Birth defects impact over 120,000 babies (1 in 33 live births) in the United States every year. They are the most common cause of death in infants and
the second most common cause of death in children aged one to four years. “Not all of these are preventable, but simple steps, like taking a multivitamin
with folic acid, can help reduce this number,” says Jane Dean, RN, Statewide Coordinator of the SC Birth Defects Prevention Program based at GGC.
SC once had the highest incidence of severe birth defects of the brain and spine (neural tube defects or NTDs) in the US and the fourth highest in the
world. “Thanks to educational efforts encouraging folic acid supplementation, the incidence of NTDs in SC has dropped by 60%,” shares Dr. Katie Clarkson,
a clinical geneticist in GGC’s Columbia office and member of the Birth Defects Surveillance Team established by the SC Department of Health and Environmental
Control (DHEC). “That translates into a savings of $15-20 million annually in healthcare costs, and more importantly, 70 more babies who are born healthy
in our state each year.”
Dean spends her time educating the public about the importance of folic acid and working with families across the state who have been impacted by NTDs.
She supplies information to healthcare providers, offers presentations to professional, school and community groups and attends bridal shows across
the area. “Half of all pregnancies are unplanned, so it’s vitally important to educate all women who could become pregnant about the importance of
taking folic acid every day, both before and during pregnancy.” In 2012 Dean was named one of GSA Business Journal’s Healthcare Heroes for her work
to prevent NTDs and her commitment to families.
Coinciding with the proclamation of Birth Defects Awareness Month, through a partnership between GGC, the SC Department of Disabilities and Special Needs
and SC DHEC, new billboards are being placed around the state to increase awareness about the importance of folic acid. “We work to get this message
in front of everyone we can. Whether you’re of childbearing age or not, you probably know and care about someone who is. Sharing this information can
truly be life-saving,” shared Dean.