Tiny Titan Rings Out Warnings of the Realities of Fetal Alcohol Recommended by Midwest Book Watch Health Division August 2006

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Chosen as one of five health books for Midwest Bookwatch, Diane C. Donovan of California Bookwatch writes, “In 1989 the author's sixth child Becca was born with a rare genetic disorder, driving her parents into poverty as they struggled with medical bills and despair. Their journey for financial and health answers would lead to the adoption of five siblings separated in foster care, and a newfound battle for resources in mental health. TINY TITAN: JOURNEY OF HOPE will find many audiences and it's autobiographical account of a struggle is truly inspirational.”

Bells will ring out across the world beginning in New Zealand on September 9, 2006 as thousands of individuals affected with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs), and their parents, caregivers and professionals work to build awareness of this lifelong disability. On the magical moment of 9:09 am chosen to represent the nine months of a sober pregnancy bells will ring on the hour from Australia to South Africa, from the cathedrals of Germany to the shores of Ireland, and across the expanse of the Atlantic to the forests of Canada and the rural plains of the Midwest. Church bells, hand bells, and cowbells will ring out warnings of the dangers of consuming alcohol while pregnant. Ann Yurcek, author of Tiny Titan, A Journey of Hope and her family will be among those planning to ring in awareness of FASDs.

The general term for FAS/FAE and related disorders is Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) and the physical characteristics may not be obvious, but FAS is nonetheless a cause of mental retardation, attention deficit disorder, developmental delays, learning disabilities and behavior disorders. As they grow, children with FASDs encounter mental health problems, difficulty in school and experience trouble with the law. Doctors can diagnose FAS by noting the history of maternal drinking and by observing slow growth, abnormal facial features and central nervous system problems (such as lower IQ, attention problems and developmental delays). The term fetal alcohol effects (FAE) is used when children lack the full set of physical abnormalities seen in FAS.

In her book, Yurcek uncovers the root cause of the troubles her newly adopted children face. The adoption agency’s promise of children with limited mental health issues falls through her hands like sand in the wind, as her children who look normal struggle to remember, understand or behave. Prenatal alcohol exposure is a primary factor in placing children in state care and a significant number of children with FASDs are placed in domestic adoptions. For international adopters, FASDs are a special concern in countries of high alcohol consumption, such as Russia and countries of Eastern Europe.

The brain damage her children incurred before birth was invisible and though each child spoke well and appeared well mannered on initial appearance, the reality of their disabilities became apparent over time as ill-informed opinions and misunderstandings lead to trouble both at school and home. The Yurceks soon discover that their newly adopted family does not have the capacity to think or remember like their other children. They have difficulties perceiving similarities and differences. They cannot generalize and make associations, or compare and contrast, and they have difficulties with patterns, sequences and judgments. They have problems with emotions. They have difficulties translating hearing into understanding, thinking into saying, reading into speaking and feelings into words. They could not tell the time and could get lost if left alone.

Undaunted, Yurcek sets out to understand what is behind her new children’s struggle. She learns from the oldest children that their birth mother drank alcohol while pregnant with the youngest children and begins studying fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs). She discovers it is not ‘just’ her children who are affected, but over 40,000 babies born in the United States each year with this lifelong disability. The economic and social impact is enormous. She is shocked to learn that “more children are born with FASDs than the combined number of babies born with muscular dystrophy, spina bifida, HIV infection and Down’s Syndrome, that the statistic is rising and it is 100% preventable.”

Many women drink when they are pregnant and others drink not knowing they are pregnant. Some drink to celebrate pregnancy. Others drink because they think that the risk is minimal, but drinking while pregnant can cause problems to the unborn baby. The degree of knowledge today can be compared to understanding of the effects of tobacco in the 1950s. The reality is that a pregnant woman who drinks runs the risk of alcohol crossing her placenta and entering the body of her unborn child. At early stages in its development, the fetus will have only a rudimentary liver, which cannot filter alcohol out of the body. That is the stage when the baby is most vulnerable, but even as the pregnancy develops and the organs become better formed, the exposure remains.

How badly the baby is affected depends on many factors, including when during pregnancy the woman drank and the pattern of alcohol abuse. The baby is born with physical and mental defects, and behavioral disabilities. An unborn child is bathed in alcohol when a pregnant woman drinks. Alcohol in the body of the fetus robs the brain of oxygen, destroys brain cells, and retards the growth of other organs. The brain suffers from incomplete development, which will permanently affect the body of the baby from birth. This affects the child’s growth, damages the brain's wiring and alters body development. The effects last for life.

Kelly Mayr of Colorado writes, “If you are going to read only one book this year, this is the book to read! Tiny Titan chronicles the journey of the Yurcek family. It goes through Becca's medical struggles with Noonan syndrome and how that changes a family. It is an inspiring look into a regular family thrust into extraordinary circumstances. Instead of getting bogged down by the overwhelming issues they face, they triumph. This book makes you laugh, cry and best of all want to be a better person.”

Tiny Titan is available at Amazon and leading booksellers.

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