Local News

Spina Bifida Patient Rises Above and Beyond Daily Challenges

Posted May 2, 2001 1:11 a.m. EDT

— Spina bifida is typically associated with babies and young children. What happens to people who grow up with the birth defect?

Years ago, people withspina bifidawere born with a medical mystery. Today they benefit from medical breakthroughs.

Staci Hawkins, 28, does not let her disability slow her down.

"I really don't consider myself different from other people," I walked across the stage when I graduated from high school," she says. I can do whatever I want to do."

Hawkins was born with spina bifida in 1972. It was a time when little was known about the birth defect.

"I wish they were able to find out when I was born that I had spina bifida and they could have done something about it then," she says.

Hawkins says she was not expected to live. "They told [my father] that he could come back and pick me up in a day or two because I would not live over two weeks," she says.

Her mother, Frances, says she and her husband prayed for a miracle.

"It was devastating, because we were extremely happy over having a child. We just refused to give up," she says. After several operations and two and a half months in the hospital, Hawkins' parents brought their baby home.

"In general, things are better than they were previously," says Dr. Richard Toselli of the UNC Spine Center.

Toselli says medical research surrounding spina bifida has come a long way. Research has lead to treatments that have improved the quality of Hawkins' life.

"With good quality care, especially associated neurologically, as well as their bladder, these patients are living pretty normal lives," he says.

Hawkins takes care of herself. She has worked most of her adult life and drives a car. Like many people with disabilities, she has also faced discrimination.

"Some people don't treat you like other people do, like most people do, like your family and friends do," she says.

Hawkins wants to help other families cope when a child is born with a disability.

"Treat your children like everybody else. That's what my parents and family have done," she says.

Francis Hawkins says her daughter has always been an inspiration to others. She is also a source of hope for other families facing the same struggle today.

About one in 1,000 children are born with spina bifida. The biggest breakthrough has been research that shows takingfolic acidcan prevent 70 percent of the cases.

TheCenters for Disease Controlrecommends that all women between the ages of 13 and 50 take a daily multi-vitamin with folic acid. Folic acid can also be found in green, leafy vegetables and orange juice.