The Catholic Herald,
Diocese of Madison, published this article by Mrs. Margaret Watson, author of the "Protect your baby" checklist, in its June 5, 1997 issue:
Doctors must 'see the light' about infant blindness: Simple measures could prevent babies' exposure to dangerous light
My daughter Katie received her First Communion recently at Our Lady Queen of Peace Church in Madison. It was an especially joyous day for our family because seven years ago when Katie was born, we didn't know if she would live.
I was only six months along in my first pregnancy when Katie arrived, weighing just two pounds, three ounces. Many prayers and the support of family and friends helped us through three long, anxious months until, at last, she could come home from the hospital.
It was a bittersweet homecoming, though, because Katie needed immediate eye surgery. She had developed Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP), an eye disease that affects seven out of ten premature babies.
ROP damages and often detaches retinae, and multiple surgeries did not halt the progression of damage to Katie's eyes. Like thousands of other premature babies in intensive care nurseries who get ROP each year, Katie was blind.
We were shaken at first, but Katie was such a delightful and responsive baby that we adjusted and adapted and went happily about raising our daughter.
It was in 1991, shortly after the birth of our second daughter, that I began to research the cause of ROP. I was shocked by what I learned: hospital lighting is suspected of playing a role in ROP.
The article, "Baby-blinding retinopathy of prematurity and intensive care nursery lighting," by H. Peter Aleff, is a detailed documentation of the assertion that fluorescent lighting is the cause of ROP.
Aleff shows that ROP began and spread in the U.S. in parallel with the introduction and spread of fluorescent lamps. When shortly after World War II, fluorescent lamps became available in most other industrial countries, then there, too, ROP appeared suddenly and also became epidemic.
Fluorescent lighting, which is used in most intensive care nurseries, is predominantly composed of short-wavelength blue light, long-known to cause retinal damage to laboratory animals and adult humans. There are safety standards to protect adult workers from this hazardous radiation.
However, in intensive care nurseries, babies can be exposed in 15 minutes or less to the adult danger-limit dose of retinal irradiation and the babies have none of the protection that adults have.
To remove this hazard from the nursery, hospitals can simply replace fluorescent tubes with incandescent lighting, or they can filter out the dangerous wavelengths with filters that are commercially available and easily installed.
Unfortunately, instead of trying these simple measures which pose no risk to the preemies, hospitals instead experiment by restricting the amount of supplemental oxygen that is given to the babies. It is certain that by restricting oxygen supplements, preemies are at an increased risk of brain damage and death; it is uncertain what effect the oxygen restriction has on ROP.
Dr. Jerold Lucey, editor of the medical journal, "Pediatrics," calls the practice of monitoring oxygen "absolutely futile." Still doctors routinely restrict oxygen, risking the babies' lives as if it is better to be dead than blind.
To advocate for the babies, I founded the non- profit corporation Prevent Blindness in Premature Babies.
We are urging Congressman Scott Klug to author legislation requiring at least as much protection for premature babies from short- wavelength blue light as our government mandates for healthy adult workers. I am also asking you to help bring an end to the babies suffering.
On Sunday, June 1, the issue of Parade Magazine (an insert in the Wisconsin State Journal) featured an article on ROP.
It is time to speak out for the babies who cannot speak for themselves; time to urge hospitals to remove the documented hazard of short- wavelength, blue light; time to say that all of God's children have a life worth living, regardless of a disability; and time to demand that doctors stop the unproven oxygen- monitoring policy that harms many babies.
It is time for doctors to "see the light."
Margaret (Margie) Watson is a member of Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish in Madison. She and her husband Marc (an alumnus of Queen of Peace School) are the proud parents of three children: Katie, 7; Elise, 5; and Andrew, 2.
The Catholic Herald, Diocese of Madison, http://www.madisondiocese.org
Mrs. Watson founded
Prevent Blindness in Premature Babies, Inc
P.O. Box 44792, Madison, Wisconsin 53744-4792
Read the TV transcripts about baby-blinding:
a discussion on "Good Morning America" about "Blinding preemies by excess nursery light"
the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's
"Market Place" program on
"Babies and Blindness"
a "USA Today" show on "Preemies going blind"
Read more printed press coverage:
New York Times
Newsweek ¦ Parade Magazine ¦ Aesclepius
Twins Magazine ¦ People's MedicaL Society