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Bill to Prevent Birth Defects Pending in Legislature

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DURHAM — There are two bills in theNorth Carolina legislatureaimed at preventing the birth defects that 150,000 children are born with in the United States every year.

TheMarch of Dimesand other health organizations want to create a statewide registry so that birth defects can be studied. The immediate goal is to put resources to treat birth defects where they are needed most. Ultimately, the goal is to prevent birth defects all together.

Elizabeth Wagner is 10 and 1/2 months old and looks like any other baby, but she is one of 200 babies born in North Carolina every year withspina bifida.

"I think the hardest thing is waiting to see what she'll do next, trying not to get our hopes up too high, but also not to limit our expectations," says Jolyne Wagner, Elizabeth's mother.

Representative Mia Morrisintroducedthe bill. that would create a statewide Birth Defect Monitoring Program. The program would cost taxpayers $325,000 a year.

"There is a lot of support," Morris says, "now whether or not there is the money to follow through is another challenge."

The money would also be used to create awareness. Researchers sayfolic acid prevents birth defects, but too few women take it.

"We can prevent neural tube defects in 50 to 70 percent of women just by taking a multiple vitamin before the woman becomes pregnant," says March of Dimes Director Kay James.

Wagner believes the legislation would also help improve the quality of life for children like Elizabeth.

"These children can have productive lives and be independent with early intervention and medical care," Wagner says. Without the early care, their futures may not be quite as bright.

The cost of the program is comparable to the cost of treating one child with a birth defect in the first year. Lawmakers who support it say it is a small price to pay for healthy babies. The final decision will be made by the Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services.

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Amanda Lamb, Reporter
Keith Baker, Photographer
Julie Moos, Web Editor

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