Helen Harrison, author of “The Premature Baby Book, has died at the age of 68.
Helen’s life took on a new path when she went into early labor at 7 months and gave birth to son Edward on September 11, 1975. Not only was he born breech, he weighed only 2 lbs, 13 oz. and had sepsis. He also ended up suffering a brain hemorrhage a week later, leaving her and husband Alfred C. Harrison Jr in a dark world half wishing the baby would die, and half terrified that he would somehow survive.
Somehow, Edward managed to live. However, at the age of 39 he has severe mental retardation, cerebral palsy, hydrocephalus and other “significant impairments,” despite 20 operations.
“We wanted our son to live,” commented Alfred. “But we know what is like to take a terrified, pain-stricken, retarded child to an emergency operation in the middle of the night,” he told the Los Angeles Times.
As a result, Helen came up with “The Premature Baby Book,” (co-written with Ann Kositsky) as a guide that she and her husband “could have used when they were going through the experiences.” The book, published in 1983, became a lifeline for other parents.
“Parents weren’t really given any say in whether to treat in extremely critical cases. Doctors made the decisions and parents had to live with the results, often having to cope with the realization that many doctors had misled them about their infants’ prospects for a normal life,” continued Alfred.
Helen Harrison who also ended up becoming a “tenacious” advocate for parents of preemies, passed away July 4th from an undisclosed “long illness.” In addition to Alfred and Edward, she leaves behind a daughter, Amy Ruth Harrison Sanchez.
Preterm babies are generally born when they are less than 37 weeks ass opposed to full term 40 weeks. The earlier a baby is born, the more severe his or her health problems are likely to be. According to the CDC, these include lifelong problems such as cerebral palsy,.breathing and respiratory problems; Visual problems including retinopathy of prematurity; hearing loss, and feeding and digestive problems, to name a few.
Among the risk factors for premature births are when mothers are carrying multiple babies, have a problem with their uterus or cervix, high blood pressure, diabetes and clotting disorders, as well as certain other infections during pregnancy, and heavy substance abuse (including smoking, drugs and alcohol) while carrying a fetus. Although researchers are not sure why, black women are about 60% more likely to have a premature baby compared to white women.