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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

I freak out when he has a runny nose: PTSD in NICU preemies' parents

Kim Roscoe's son Jaxon was born three months early, weighing only two and a half pounds. For nine days he did exceedingly well in the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit). Then, on Day 10 he went into respiratory and kidney failure, and his body had swollen beyond recognition. "He was hooked up to ventilators, his skin was turning black, the alarms kept dinging over and over," Kim recalls.

Jaxon is 16 months old now, home with his family. In the NICU for 186 days, he survived several near-death episodes.

During the six-month ordeal, his mother had constant nightmares. She became angry at the world, and so jumpy that she once thought that a supermarket scanner was one of Jaxon's monitors going off.

About three months after Jaxon's birth, she asked to see a psychiatrist. She received a diagnosis of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). Doctors are increasingly recognizing PTSD among parents of premature infants in prolonged intensive care, according to a recent study in the journal Psychosomatics.

"The NICU was very much like a war zone, with the alarms, the noises, and death and sickness," Kim said. "You don't know who's going to die and who will go home healthy."

Experts say parents of NICU infants experience multiple traumas: the shockingly early birth itself, traumatic medical procedures and life-threatening events, and hearing very bad news that can keep coming.

Kim says that now she's coping with great anxiety about Jaxon, even now: "I still freak out if he has a runny nose. And when he gets a fever, I'm back in the NICU."

Advice to stressed parents of a NICU preemie: Keep in mind that there are very happy endings. My very healthy son just entered college, 19 years after his three-week stay in a NICU. Contact the March of Dimes NICU Family Support program, which offers psychological support to parents in 74 hospitals nationwide.

Read another NICU story.

Thanks to Laurie Tarkan for the source article in the New York Times of August 25.

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