Clockwise, from above:
Rodney Rivera of NICHD starts the walk with his 4½-month-old son, Matthew.
Zhensheng “ZZ” Zhang of NIDDK crosses the 5K finish line in exultant fashion.
Dr. Regina James (l), director of NICHD’s Division of Special Populations, and her running
partner husband Dr. Kirk James, a health scientist administrator with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration,
begin their 5K run.
|For Jewel Foster of OD and her son, Jamar, participating
in the event was an important family affair.
To raise awareness about infant mortality, NICHD sponsored a 5K run-walk-roll on Sept. 16 in conjunction with Infant Mortality Awareness
Month. Many NIH’ers showed up to loosen
their limbs, learn from speakers including NICHD director Dr. Alan Guttmacher and then hit the trail, which circled the campus.
One participant’s story, however, stood out on a day of mostly light-hearted camaraderie.
Jewel Foster couldn’t wait to be a mom. Unfortunately,
her first child couldn’t wait either and arrived at just 22 weeks’ gestation, slightly more than half the duration of a typical pregnancy.
Her due date had been Oct. 21, 1996, and the baby, Lamarre, was born June 21.
“It was a big shock. We didn’t know anything about why he came early, we didn’t know anything
about preemies, we didn’t know anything about what 22 weeks’ gestation meant,” she said of herself and her husband. “And I didn’t know until the neonatologist confirmed that at 22 weeks, he probably wouldn’t make it through the night.”
Neonatologists and NICU nurses in the Minneapolis
hospital near where the Fosters lived had never seen a baby survive at earlier than 26 weeks. A baby born at 22 weeks was just unheard of.
“It was difficult, because they knew it was going to take a lot,” said Foster, a program support assistant in the Office of the Director. “They kept telling me ‘A baby born this young is going to have multiple complications.’”
Some hospital staff suggested the couple consider
pulling the plug. The Fosters refused and stood firm in their faith—in God, in medicine and in the innate will to live that is in all of us.
In all, Lamarre would have 22 surgeries in his young life. The Fosters’ son made it out of the NICU and lived for 2½ years. He passed away due to kidney failure, something doctors determined was a result of the constant medication he required.
The experience, though devastating, gave Foster insight into an issue about which little is known. Until that time, it was believed that early births, complications and infant mortality were directly and almost exclusively linked with a lack of prenatal
care, a low education level on the part of the mother, low income and poor access to medical professionals.
In Foster’s case, none of that was true. A well-educated, middle-class working woman, Foster had the best obstetrician in the Twin Cities area, never missed a checkup and was diligent about taking care of herself while pregnant. The baby arrived early anyway. Her neonatologist and a co-author wrote about the Fosters’ experience in the book Before Their Time.
Foster has since been invited to speak to church groups, community groups and is a spokesperson for the African-American Infant Mortality Coalition, which advocates
for more research on this issue. In doing so, she helps dispel misconceptions about why some babies are born prematurely and hopes that science will soon provide
“My family’s very involved and they know that it’s a healing process,” she said, hugging her 10-year-old son, Jamar. The Fosters also have another son, Joshua, 6. “This is part of our lives now.”—