Young adults born early say they're fine
The results surprised health-care professionals.
AKRON -- For many premature, severely underweight babies, life will be filled with challenges.
As these babies grow up, they are more likely than normal-weight babies to have problems walking, hearing, speaking and seeing.
They are more likely to need regularly prescribed medication, special diets, physical therapy and special educational arrangements.
They are at greater risk for cerebral palsy, asthma and a low IQ.
But guess what?
These kids grow up to think they're doing just fine, according to research in this week's edition of the journal Pediatrics.
In interviews with 130 young adults who were born at normal weight and 143 young adults who were born weighing between 1.1 pounds and 2.2 pounds, Canadian researchers found little difference in how the two groups viewed their health-related quality of life.
Among the low-birth-weight group, 62 percent rated their quality of life positively, compared with 72 percent of the normal-birth-weight group.
The findings were greeted with "some skepticism and disbelief," the study points out. According to the naysayers, the positive responses had to be due to "denial and self-deception."
Not so, say the study's authors. The consistency of the positive responses "support the concept that this is real."
Dr. Diane Langkemp, director of Akron Children's Hospital's neonatal follow-up clinic, said that she, too, was somewhat surprised by the findings, mainly because the vast majority of studies on low-birth-weight babies focuses on their health deficits.
The perspective offered in the new study contains a valuable lesson for doctors, nurses and therapists.
Said Langkemp: "One of the key take-away messages here is that there's a difference in how people perceive their own health compared with how health-care professionals view it."
To Fran Massoli, though, there's nothing at all surprising about the study's results.
Her son, Marco, 17, a high school junior in Akron, was born at 25 weeks weighing 1 pound, 12 ounces. Although the first three months of his life were spent in the neonatal intensive care unit, he has no long-term disability or ongoing health problems.
"Although it was a very rocky start for him, he caught up in strides and has had a very good quality of life," Massoli said. "He's a typical 17-year-old boy."
The reason for the positive outlook may simply be a byproduct of personal experiences, the study said.
"Children born with impairments, such as those in our study, have never known life to be any different," the study said. "They have adapted to their disabilities while growing up and perhaps made the necessary adjustments with less conscious effort."
Massoli, who is a nurse in Children's neurodevelopmental center, said the kids' focus isn't on their disabilities.
"They're kids," she said. "They're resilient. They focus on what they can do and not on the things they can't do."
The study also found that the demographics of the two groups, both of which had an average age of 23, were similar:
Twenty-nine percent of the low-birth-weight group continued their education past high school, compared with 30 percent of the normal-birth-weight group.
Eleven percent of the the low-birth-weight group were married, compared with 7 percent of the other group.
Forty-eight percent of the low-birth-weight group were permanently employed, compared with 56 percent of the other group. (However, 25 percent of the low-birth-weight group were still in school, compared with 15 percent of the other group.)