and media coverage of baby-blinding by fluorescent nursery lights
Preemies go blind from nursery lights
and doctors deny the harm
and broadcast on September 27, 1989, with Bill Macatee as narrator. An expanded version of this story was aired again on Saturday, September 30, as part of the "Highlights of the week".
Bill Macatee: In our cover story - an epidemic. Every year, 500 babies born prematurely lose their eyesight. One man blames his son's blindness on those bright fluorescent lights in the hospital's preemie wards, and some doctors agree.
Bill Macatee: Peter Aleff is passionate about two things; his son David, and convincing doctors of the cause for David's blindness.
Peter Aleff: When we came into the nursery when our son was there, the light hurt our own eyes, and we thought that if it hurts our eyes, then it must certainly hurt the babies's still more.
Bill Macatee's voice over footage of intensive care nursery: Aleff has launched a one-man campaign to force doctors to replace fluorescent lights in the hospital nurseries with softer, incandescent lights that can be dimmed. Aleff believes the blue and ultraviolet rays given off by fluorescents can damage the retina in a premature baby's eyes.
Peter Aleff: Don't expose babies who are still meant to be in a dark womb to bright lights as if they were in a third degree spy interrogation!
Bill Macatee: There has been growing concern among doctors that some lighting adjustment is needed. But the doctors differ on what's to bright versus what is too dim. (picture shows Dr. Gerald Merenstein, Chairman of the Committee on Fetus and Newborn of the American Academy of Pediatrics, in a brightly lit nursery). The American Academy of Pediatrics is opposed to any change until more research is done. Its spokesman, Dr. Gerald Merenstein, thinks babies should be tested in both conditions.
Dr. Merenstein (seated behind desk): With these babies being so fragile and so complex, we need to be very careful before we do anything.
Peter Aleff: I just cannot understand the type of mentality that would now expose some babies deliberately to more light, just to see how many go blind in each group.
(picture switches to Dr. Penny Glass, Developmental Psychologist at the Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., in an intensive care nursery setting)
Dr. Glass: I wouldn't want my child under the bright light, no!
Bill Macatee's voice: Five years ago, Dr. Penny Glass did a study that showed a correlation between the increased light levels and the increase in blindness among premature babies. Because of that study, Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., has drastically reduced the lighting in its intensive care nursery. There, babies are coddled by parents in minimum lighting comparable to the lighting in a museum, or dark stairway.
Dr. Glass: They rest better under low light, and interestingly enough, for the parents' sake, they are more likely to open up their eyes and look around when the lights are low. (Picture shows Dr. Merenstein handling a baby in a brightly lit isolette.)
Bill Macatee's voice: Dr. Gerald Merenstein thinks no studies conducted so far have made a direct link between nursery lighting and blindness.
Dr. Merenstein: Although it is worrysome, at this point we don't have evidence that shows that that is the cause.
Dr. Glass: (camera focuses on a big red sign in the nursery that reads: "Cover Baby's eyes when using lamp") Until we know better, or until we know what safety limits are, the most prudent approach is to dim the lights and shade the baby's eyes.
Bill Macatee: Peter Aleff wishes the doctors who treated his son David had felt the same way.
Peter Aleff: Continuing to study this is mostly a delaying tactic on the part of the physicians who do not want to admit that they have been wrong for half a century. They can do this with guinea pigs, but please -- not with human babies!
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