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Symbolic bell ringing signals Fetal Alcohol Syndrome awareness

Posted: Thursday, September 08, 2005

At the ninth minute of the ninth hour of the ninth day of the ninth month, bells will ring in Kenai and around the globe Friday marking the Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Bell Concordance.

The ceremony at Erik Hansen Scout Park on the bluff above the mouth of the Kenai River actually will begin at 8:50 a.m. with drumming by the Heartbeat of Mother Earth Drummers from the Kenaitze Indian Tribe Nakenu Family Center.

Following the drumming will be a moment of silence at 9:08 a.m. for those born with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, and the bell ringing a minute later.

A bell will ring nine times in Kenai, synchronized with similar bell ringing events around the world, according to Vickie Tinker, FAS program coordinator for Frontier Community Services in Soldotna.

Tinker said Kenai Mayor Pat Porter will not be able to attend the ceremony this year — the seventh annual bell ringing — but will send Vice Mayor Joe Moore to read a proclamation setting the day aside to commemorate FAS victims.

FAS Awareness Day marks the identification in the medical community 32 years ago, of alcohol-related birth defects.

The special day is set aside to increase awareness of the effects of alcohol on the unborn fetus. According to Tinker, no amount of alcohol is safe to drink during pregnancy.

The symbolic ringing of the bell nine times at the ninth minute serve as a reminder of the nine months during pregnancy when a woman should not drink alcohol at all, Tinker said.

She said alcohol-related fetal defects are 100 percent preventable. If no alcohol is consumed during pregnancy, no Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders will occur.

Tinker listed other facts about FAS:

1. In Alaska, 163 children are born at risk for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders every year.

2. Alaska has the highest known incidence of FASD in the nation.

3. Alcohol abuse in Alaska costs more than $249 million per year.

4. More than 20,000 Alaska women of childbearing age have acknowledged they are heavy drinkers.

5. The highest risk group of women? College students in their early- to mid-20s.

6. Alcohol does far worse damage to a developing fetus than any other drugs, including heroin and cocaine.

7. Although men cannot cause FASD, they have a big role in being supportive and sober partners to assure they have healthy babies.

8. Only 10 percent of children born with fetal alcohol damage have the facial features normally associated with the disability. The other 90 percent have an "invisible disability." They look fine, but they can have a lot of challenges because their brains are wired differently. These kids tend to get in trouble more, and oftentimes, they can't access the services they need to succeed because they don't look like they have brain injury.

9. Education and training on FASD is available free of charge to the Kenai Peninsula through Frontier Community Services' FASD Team.

10. Anyone can make a referral to the FASD diagnostic clinic. Denali Kid Care and Medicaid will pay for all the assessments.

In addition to the drumming, bell ringing and mayoral proclamation, people attending the Kenai ceremony Friday will hear comments from FASD experts, including Dr. Phil Mattheis, a Frontier Community Services physician specializing in FAS; Gloria Stuart, a parent advocate for Frontier; and Deb Evensen of Homer, one of the nation's top specialists in FAS, Tinker said.

Tinker and Shannon Darling, Alaska Public Radio Network Songwriter of the Year, are slated to provide singing and guitar music during the ceremony.

To protect against the elements, ConocoPhillips has donated the use of a large tent for the ceremony, and coffee and baked goods are to be provided by Kaladi Brothers and Safeway, respectively.

In past years, a breakfast also followed the Kenai event, but no breakfast will be served this year, Tinker said.

People who want more information about the event or about Fetal Alcohol Syndrome may contact Tinker at 262-6331.



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