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and media coverage of   baby-blinding by fluorescent nursery lights

 

  Preemies go blind from nursery lights  

 

 and doctors deny the harm

 
 

Davidpreem02.jpg (21412 bytes)

From The New York Times op-ed page, August 9, 1989

Blinding Ignorance

by H. Peter Aleff, Vineland, NJ

Premature babies are losing their sight

In ancient times, a particularly brutal torture used for criminals and enemies was to make them stare at the sun until the blazing light destroyed their eyes.
 
Nowadays, in a more civilized era, even the worst culprits are safe from such cruel and unusual punishment.  Yet our most innocent and helpless fellow humans -- premature babies -- enjoy no such protection.

 

Many are routinely blinded for life from reckless exposure to excess light in the intensive care nurseries where they must spend their first days, weeks, or even months.  Indeed, many hundreds of preemies go blind each year, and thousands more wind up with lifelong severe visual handicaps as a result of nursery lighting.

 

My 4-year-old son David was blinded by what is called retinopathy of prematurity. I wanted to know why and what I learned made me angry.  The epidemic of blinding could easily have been ended long before David and thousands of other now blind children were born, if doctors had applied the medical research described in their own journals.

 

When I tried to bring this to the attention of various physicians and asked them to help eradicate retinopathy of prematurity, I found mostly medical ignorance and indifference.

 

To anyone able and willing to plow through the clinical papers on this subject, there can be no doubt that the blinding is caused by light.  The fluorescent lamps in the nurseries emit high-energy blue wavelengths in a laser-like concentration even more intense than that from the sun.

 

Research shows that these wavelengths cause the most damage to the retina of the mammals studied, including higher primates.  Under an electron microscope, the damage to the animal retinal cells looks very similar lo the cellular damage from retinopathy of prematurity.

 

The American Academy of Pediatrics specifies that intensive care nurseries should be illuminated with fluorescent light at a light level of 60 foot-candles -- despile a study that demonstrated that 60 foot-candles increased the risk of retinopathy of prematurity.

 

Neonatologists say the intensive care nurseries are trying to recreate the environment of the womb, but somehow they forget that wombs don't come with lamps.  Instead of developing in darkness as nature intended, a preemie's retinas receive, in less than three hours, more than 11 times the amount of irradiation recognized as the industrial danger limit for adult workers.

 

To make matters worse, the weak and immature preemies are not yet as resistant to light damage as the adults whom the guidelines protect.

 

In 1986, I wrote to the American Academy of Pediatrics and asked it to change its specifications on nursery lighting to less dangerous levels.  It sent me a brush-off reply with the ritual affirmation that more research was needed.

 

It never replied to any of my follow-up letters.  I wrote to many neonatologists and ophthalmologists but received either no reply or platitudes.  Not one of the several dozen I wrote to challenged any of the material I had assembled, and not one lifted a finger to help preemies keep their eyesight.

 

I alerted the New York State Department of Health in 1987 about the mountain of evidence incriminating nursery lights. The people there promised to review the situation and then promptly lost my papers; after a year of my pleading for the babies and writing follow-up letters, they formed a technical advisory group to study the matter.  This group is still "studying the matter" and the Department has not done anything to end the blinding.

 

Few laymen can successfully testify against a physician in medical matters, regardless of how ignorant and indifferent the physician may be.  And physicians protect each other with a conspiracy of silence about their wrongdoings.

 

As long as these attitudes -- and this stubborness -- persist in the medical community, the epidemic of blinding will continue, and many preemies still to be born will have their eyes destroyed by a merciless torture we would no longer inflict on our worst enemies.

*

Read more press coverage:

 Newsweek    Parade Magazine    Aesclepius  

Twins Magazine      People's Medical Society
The Catholic Herald

View also the transcripts of TV shows:

  • 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"

     

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