Medical science has made amazing strides in saving premature babies, yet a report card issued by the March of Dimes gives the tri-state area a “D” in preventing premature births, CBS 2’s Dr. Max Gomez reports.

The half million premature or pre-term births every year in this country costs us more than $26 billion in care and consequences.

This adorable, little bundle of joy looks to be just about perfect, but little Phoebe Boxenbaum’s life didn’t start out that way.

She’s now just shy of six-months-old but when she was born, 13 weeks prematurely, it was pretty bumpy at first.

“There was infection, of course. We had blood transfusions. There was a valve in her heart that was open that needed to close,” said Melinda Wasserman, Phoebe’s mother.

Melinda had no known risk factors for pre-term birth so there wasn’t much she could have done to keep phoebe from becoming a preemie but the march of dimes says many premature births can be prevented.

Good pre-natal care is important of course but the March of Dimes says some of the most important things start even before a woman gets pregnant.

“Things start with medical conditions. So a woman who is obese, or underweight, a woman who has high blood pressure, will be factors that can be dealt with even before women become pregnant. Women have to be honest with their doctors. If they’re smoking, if they’re drinking, if they’re taking illicit drugs, even prescription drugs, they really need to talk to their doctors,” said Dr. Alan Fleischman, medical director of the March of Dimes.

Studies have shown that preemies are at increased risk for brain bleeding and damage that can lead to cerebral palsy and mental retardation. Even those who are healthy are at greater risk for learning disabilities, behavior problems and even obesity and high blood pressure as adults.

Right now, Phoebe just needs a little physical therapy to catch up in her upper body and neck strength, but mom and dad know she’s at risk.

“We’re always maintaining a heightened level of vigilance for anything that might pop up,” said David Boxenbaum, Phoebe’s father.

If you think that it’s unrealistic to think we can prevent preemie births, the March of Dimes showed that a demonstration project with the state of Kentucky dramatically dropped prematurity rates in that state.

In other words, we can do much better than a “D” here in the tri-state area.

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