‘There Is No Safe Amount’: Advocates Raise Awareness For Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders

Research using fetal tissue that otherwise would be discarded has been funded by the government, under leadership of both political parties, for decades. (Image: MGN)
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — One in 10 pregnant women admit to doing it, and one in 20 Minnesota first graders feel the effects of that decision.

Every Sept. 9, advocates raise awareness about Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders. Studies suggest they are much more common than you might think.

As WCCO found, it’s why local families and doctors are leading the way by telling the tragic proof.

For years, the medical field says the topic has been twisted. The misinformation is overwhelming in headlines and on social media.

Often, lost in the search for facts are the faces of Minnesota kids living with lifelong consequences.

A public service announcement attempts to paint the picture.

“There is no safe amount of alcohol, even in moderation. I’m proof, I’m proof. We have FASD and we’re proof,” a group of kids said to the camera.

Maddox Rossman of Edina is also proof. His parents adopted the now 15-year-old as a baby, unaware of any problems. But in school he struggled with sitting still, loud noises, making friends and math.

“He would come home and he would say, ‘Mom, why doesn’t my brain work like other kids’ brains?’ and, ‘Mom I want a new brain,’” Julie Rossman said.

In third grade, he was diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.

“I have found that a lot of people simply don’t know what it is,” she said.

Doctors say it’s common for kids with FASD to instead be diagnosed with ADHD or other behavioral disorders.

In fact, one study found that women in Minnesota most likely to give birth to a baby exposed to alcohol are white, college-educated, and making more than $50,000 a year.

An OBGYN at Park Nicollet Women’s Center, Dr. Sari Witzke, is committed to the conversation.

“I think we need to really now prioritize what we get into those prenatal visits, and what is really an important message to give to patients,” Dr. Witzke said.

She now brings up what even one or two alcoholic drinks can do.

“It’s not worth rolling the dice and risking your baby’s long-term health,” she said.

When a pregnant woman drinks, alcohol passes from the mother’s blood to the baby’s, potentially killing cells that form the brain and other organs.

A cruel reality, Dr. Witzke says is sometimes ignored as women cling to old myths.

“They will search the internet, they will search books, they will search to find the answer they want to find,” she said.

Proof Alliance formerly known as MOFAS is the largest such statewide organization, as Minnesota leads the way in FASD prevention and research.

“What we really want to achieve is to change the social norm,” Executive Director Sara Messelt said.

A new campaign carries the messages that there’s no safe amount, no safe kind and no safe time for alcohol during pregnancy.

“It’s a simple message but we also know it’s a complicated thing to prevent,” Messelt said.

Proof Alliance is also focused on supporting those impacted by FASD with specialized programs.

“We know that early interventions give us better outcomes,” Messelt added.

Like for Tiffany Morgan, who lives with the shame.

“I don’t want anyone to go through what I have to go through. It’s 100% preventable,” Morgan said.

She drank every day when she was pregnant with her daughter.

“I have to constantly be reminded of my actions. I have to be reminded when my daughter can’t make a friend at school. She doesn’t have friends at school. Her everyday life I have to be reminded of my actions, so how can I forgive myself?” Morgan asked.

Morgan says she didn’t know the dangers until Ny’Ana’s diagnosis in grade school. She now speaks in treatment facilities and early childhood classes with the hope her honesty spares other families the pain.

“I’m not able to help anybody if I keep it to myself,” Morgan said.

At the capitol next year, advocates will push for mandatory FASD screening for all kids entering foster care. Research shows is affects more than 30% of children in the system. Advocates also want people with FASD to qualify for brain injury services.

They don’t right now because Minnesota law says you’re not considered to have a brain injury if it happens before birth.