Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is a devastating disorder that leaves a child mentally and physically impaired for their entire lives.
While there is no cure, this syndrome is completely preventable, which is the message being spread during the fifth annual International FAS Awareness Day on Tuesday.
"People need to understand there is no safe amount of alcohol to consume during pregnancy," said Vickie Tinker, the assistant for the FAS program at Frontier Community Services.
FAS Aware-ness Day this year marks the 30th anniversary of the identification of alcohol-related birth defects in the medical community and locally will take place at Eric Hansen Memorial Park in Old Town Kenai.
"Our main emphasis is creating a public awareness of FAS," Tinker said. "We are about prevention and recognition."
It is estimated that as many as 12,000 children are born each year with FAS or Fetal Alcohol Effects. According to the state's office of FAS, Alaska has the highest rate of all the United States. Approximately 140 infants are born each year in Alaska that have been affected by maternal alcohol use during pregnancy.
However, the numbers may not reflect the true populace that is affected with FAS, Tinker said.
"There are many people who have it that are undiagnosed," she said.
Some women who have consumed alcohol during pregnancy are hesitant to admit it, but the FAS program tries to take the shame and the blame off the women, Tinker said.
"Women don't want to harm their babies," she said. "But FAS speaks to the power of the disease of alcoholism."
Tinker also pointed out that some women may have consumed alcohol in their first month of gestation before realizing they were pregnant.
Alaska Natives have an FAS prevalence rate of 4.8 per 1,000 live births a rate almost four times as high as non-Native groups.
However, these high numbers may be the result of people living isolated in the bush that do not have FAS services available to them, as opposed to popular misconception that Natives are just predisposed to the disability.
"It can affect people of any race or income," Tinker said.
In Kenai, the International FAS Awareness Day kicks of at 8:45 a.m. with a performance by the Heartbeat of Mother Earth Drummers from the Kenaitze Indian Tribe's Nakenu Family Center.
Then at 9:09 a.m. there will be a ringing of bells, a moment of silence and a lullaby sung by performer Bonnie Nichols. These events are shrouded in symbolism.
"The ringing of the bells nine times and the moment of silence is purposefully on the ninth minute of the ninth hour, of the ninth day, of the ninth month, to serve as a time to remember the nine months of pregnancy that a woman should not drink," Tinker said.
From there, the event moves to the Kenai American Legion Hall where at 9:15 a.m. there will be a free breakfast sponsored by the members of the American Legion.
There also will be more music by Nichols and a talk by Dr. Marguerite McIntosh, the physician coordinator for the FAS program.
"She'll be sharing stories of hope," said Tinker.
For more information, contact the FAS program at Frontier Community Services at 262-6331.
8:45 a.m. performance by the Heartbeat of Mother Earth Drummers from the Kenaitze Indian Tribe's Nakenu Family Center.
9:09 a.m. ringing of bells, a moment of silence and a lullaby sung by performer Bonnie Nichols.
9:15 a.m. free breakfast sponsored by the members of the American Legion.
Events begin at Eric Hansen Memorial Park in Old Town Kenai.
10 things to know about Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
Drinking during pregnancy can cause permanent damage to a developing fetus.
FAS is one of the most common causes of mental retardation and is the only cause that is entirely preventable.
According to recent state of Alaska surveillance data, more than 126 children are born at risk for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder's (FASD) each year in Alaska.
Prenatal exposure to alcohol can cause brain damage and other permanent birth defects.
Obtaining an FAS diagnoses can improve an individual's ability to function in the world and may reduce secondary disabilities like depression and school failure.
FASD is found in all races and socioeconomic groups wherever women drink alcohol FASD exists.
There is no safe level of alcohol consumption during pregnancy.
Women should stop drinking even prior to trying to conceive alcohol can cause damage to developing fetus even before a woman knows she is pregnant.
FASD is 100 percent preventable.
With the right diagnosis, support and understanding, many individuals with FASD are living happy and full lives.
Source: State of Alaska's Office of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome at www.hss.state.ak.us/fas/.
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