Kate Wallaces parents consider her a miracle child. Dan and Kerry were both born with spina bifida, a condition that causes the spine to improperly form and the leading cause of childhood paralysis. They were afraid they would pass on the condition.
"I didn't want Kate to have to experience the disability that I have," Kerry tells CBS 2s Paul Moniz. "I wanted to have a child that could run and dance."
After consulting with a doctor who specializes in high-risk pregnancy, Kerry and Dan were told if Kerry took the B vitamin folic acid before pregnancy, her chance of giving birth to a healthy child would be greatly increased.
Research shows taking 400 micrograms daily of folic acid can dramatically reduce neural tube defects, which affect the brain and spinal cord.
Neonatologist Robert Koppel of Schneider Children's Hospital says research also suggests folic acid can reduce other birth abnormalities.
"That includes cleft lip and palate, certain heart defects, and abnormalities of the kidneys, hands, and feet," he says.
Dr. Koppel believes that even a healthy diet rich in dark leafy vegetables and grains still does not provide enough folic acid. Further, too few women are taking a multivitamin with folic acid because their doctors are not telling them about the benefits.
Although awareness that folic acid can reduce birth defects has skyrocketed, a March of Dimes survey shows only about one in four women of childbearing age actually takes a multivitamin with folic acid.
More than three-quarters of those surveyed say their doctors have never discussed the benefits and just 7% say are aware folic acid must be started at least # months before pregnancy to prevent the most serious abnormalities.
It is critical to do so because neural tube defects occur during the first month of pregnancy before many women even realize they are pregnant.
Doctors say it is a good idea for all women of child-bearing age to take folic acid, even if they are not pregnant. It also protects the adult heart because it lowers homocysteine levels that can contribute to heart disease.
Kerry took a megadose of folic acid because she was at high risk. Kate is now perfectly healthy, proof that something as simple as a vitamin can change lives. Its a powerful weapon in a very inexpensive pill.
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