The most important instruction you never heard at the OBGYN's office: A pregnant woman should not kiss a toddler on the mouth. It's a quiet fact that Lisa Saunders is trying to shout to the world. "When Elizabeth was born, she had a very small head," remembers this Mystic mom who had another young daughter and ran a licensed daycare. "The moment I saw her, I knew something was wrong." The baby's severely damaged brain was a result of congenital CMV, cytomegalovirus, which passes from a woman to a fetus through the placenta. Now, this writer and passionate advocate for awareness, is asking legislators to make Connecticut the second state in the nation, after Utah, to require public education and testing of CMV.
"It's beyond words, really, to have that kind of shock when you're all excited," says Saunders, who was seriously depressed and distraught after the birth. "All I could think about was her diagnosis, her prognosis….but, I gradually started seeing her and I just fell in love with her." Saunders always wonders if warnings and knowledge about this virus would've changed her daughter's path.
"The interventions are simple," explains Dr. Brenda Balch, a pediatrician with a specialty in hearing loss prevention. "When you're pregnant, it's 9 months of being more cautious in regards to the spread of disease." For adults and children, CMV is a common virus transmitted by person to person contact, causing mild, flu-like symptoms. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (www.cdc.gov/cmv), 30,000 babies are born with the virus each year in the United States. Five thousand will suffer serious complications, such as mental disabilities, vision problems and hearing loss. Pregnant women who have toddlers or work in a daycare setting are most at risk and should wash hands often, especially after changing diapers or handling saliva-covered toys. Also: They should resist sharing food with a young child or kissing him or her on the mouth. "That's a hard thing to say to a pregnant woman but if it can prevent something like CMV, it's worth it," says Balch.
A quadriplegic with cerebral palsy, Elizabeth had multiple surgeries and countless bouts with pneumonia over the years. "There was physical pain that she endured. It's hard to recall it…no parent should have to see their child in pain," says an emotional Saunders. After developing epilepsy, Elizabeth died during a seizure when she was 16 years old. Saunders believes a new law, raising awareness, would reduce the spread of the infection. "Those dark, lonely nights with Elizabeth, just trying to get her to see dawn…of course, I would've done everything I could have done to prevent that."
For more information about CMV prevention, watch Monday's Fox CT Morning News.