Premmie People

Vale Kathryn Barnard (1938-2015)

Kathryn Barnard, Nursing Professor at University of Washington, worked for babies using the assumption that "They just can't wait". Babies need what they need right from birth and cannot wait until someone is ready to give what they need. In the 1970s she urged for a change in the way premature babies were treated. Babies were isolated in their "isolettes" (Incubators) for fear that they may become medically unstable if taken out and held by their mothers. She developed an isolette that gently rocked isolated premature babies. Studies found that gentle rocking led to faster weight gain and improved motor and sensory functions. She also taught that gentle touching was crucial to helping children understand the world and be understood. The touching and rocking opened lines of communication between mothers and their babies, and is the first way a baby can start to understand the world.

Vale Helen Harrison

Helen Harrison was so unprepared when her son Edward was born prematurely that she later wrote a popular manual for parents called The Premature Baby Book: A Parent's Guide to Coping and Caring in the First Years," regarded for years as "the premmie bible" for families suddenly facing a welter of difficult decisions..  The book was published in 1983 and has gone through many re-printings, with proceeds donated to neonatal causes. Edward is now 39, has undergone about 20 major operations and is handicapped "But despite his handicaps, Ed has turned into a delightful human being, who plays music for himself... sings, dances and reads Dr Seuss. He has been a major joy to Helen and me (Helen's husband).

Since Helen's book was published, doctors have made enormous advances in caring for premature babies. However, Helen continued to crusade against what she called "indiscriminate medical intervention" in pregnancies and the indifference of medical practitioners to the pain newborns experience while receiving lifesaving interventions.

"We had enough money to allow us to put tons of time and energy into Edward's care. The situation would have been entirely different if Helen had been waiting on tables all day, or if I had been riding a jackhammer. It would have been a non-stop nightmare instead of the challenge that we were able to deal with."

In 2000 Helen complained that parents are rarely told about long-term, so-called minor disabilities. "These minor disabilities, of course, can keep children from living independently, or ever having a social life or being able to function in society... [Doctors] must ask themsleves how they can best inform parents and return these profoundly life-altering decisions to families on their own turf"

Ref: Helen Harrison, 68, Authority on Premature Births by Sam Roberts