“My job is to spread the word about how to have a healthy baby,” shares Jane Dean, RN, who sits in her office at the Greenwood Genetic Center surrounded by the fruits of her work – countless photos of smiling babies which were shared with her by grateful parents. Dean is the Statewide Coordinator for the SC Birth Defects Prevention Program and works directly with families who have lost newborns or experienced the birth of a child with a severe birth defect of the brain and spine, known as a neural tube defect.
“The good news is that most of these birth defects can be prevented if women take a multivitamin containing folic acid before and during pregnancy,” said Dean. “By educating everyone, but most importantly women of childbearing age, about folic acid we have seen tremendous success.”
In the early 1990s, South Carolina had the highest incidence of these birth defects in the country. Now, thanks in major part to Dean and her partners, which include the SC Department of Disabilities and Special Needs (DDSN) and Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC), that incidence has dropped by over 60%. That means that every year 70 babies are born healthy in SC, who 20 years ago would have been born with or succumbed to a neural tube defect. The prevention of these defects also saves the state approximately $20 million each year on health care costs.
SC Governor Nikki Haley has officially proclaimed January as Birth Defects Prevention Month in SC to recognize the work of the Program and encourage individuals to take the necessary steps to ensure that every baby has a healthy start.
Another partner who has joined Dean’s mission is a community-based organization, PASOs. PASOs (which means “steps” in Spanish) serves the growing Latino population of SC by connecting individuals and families with healthcare, educational, and parenting resources. PASOs is hosted by the University of South Carolina Arnold School of Public Health and partners with local health organizations around the state.
Julie Smithwick is the executive director of PASOs. “The message to take folic acid supplements is a simple, but a very important one – and one that, when delivered in a culturally appropriate way, is understood and adopted by Latino families” shared Smithwick. PASOs reaches Latino individuals and families across SC providing education about the benefits of folic acid, as well as supplements to women of childbearing age. “The Latino population has a higher incidence of these birth defects and is a population that is growing rapidly. We must do all we can to ensure a healthier start for all of our state’s children.”
The work of the GGC and the SC Birth Defects Prevention Program is supported by the Greenwood Genetic Center Foundation. Additional information is available at www.ggc.org or by contacting Dean at 1-800-676-6332.