Nearly half a million preemies are born in the U.S. every year. But like most people, Jeff Stimpson, the father who wrote Alex, never gave premature babies a thought beyond the cliché of medical miracles. Many of these children grow up with special needs, necessitating an increasing and ever-controversial burden on society. Medicine is creating not only a new population of individuals, but a special and growing population of parents and families. Alex was born in June of 1998. He weighed 21 ounces. He spent the first year of his life in the hospital. This is the story of his first years. It's a story of doctors, hospitals, conferences, hate, love, gratitude, envy, frustration, joy, and worry. It's the story of a preemie.
Stimpson saw his son get a spinal tap without anesthesia (it isn't given to micro-preemies) and three times witnessed Alex stop breathing-once on his lap. Stimpson and his wife were at the hospital every day, and there they encountered not only how far the science of saving preemies has advanced but how far it hasn't, and how far healthcare and other professionals need to go to understand what parents go through when their infant lives in a hospital. The Stimpsons got a crash course in life behind the billboard of medical miracle, and learned how care of preemies can greatly differ, and, perhaps most important, how patients' families must learn to be consumers when trying to find that care. What keeps a family going when a child spends a year in the hospital? In compelling prose, Stimpson traces the life of his child from birth to kindergarten: four wings in two hospitals; coming home with a roomful of medical gear and round-the-clock drugs and nursing; the gains and downturns of home therapy through Early Intervention; finding and prospering in a special-needs preschool; a diagnosis of autism; and the ongoing battle to give Alex a fair shot at childhood, and at life.
Stimpson's memoir of the first seven years of his preemie son Alex's life reads like a diary, often compelling in its immediacy, sometimes mind-numbing in its excruciating detail. Because of a condition called intrauterine growth retardation, in which the fetus's growth is dangerously slow, doctors induced Alex's birth after a six-and-a-half-month pregnancy, hoping he'd "do better outside the womb than inside." With a birth weight of 21 ounces, Alex spent almost all of his first year in the hospital, attached to "lue tubes, green tubes, clear tubes, fat tubes, fine tubes" that kept him alive. Life with a premature infant in the hospital was emotionally wrenching, and Stimpson's descriptions of the grueling routine he and his wife endured are heartrending. When Alex finally came home, there were new problems: getting him off his medications, feeding tube and, finally, his oxygen tank; trying to interest him in eating; dealing with his possible autism and mental retardation; and handling the inevitable health insurance struggles. Stimpson, a journalist currently with Practical Accountant magazine, provides a vivid picture of life in a preemie's family that will surely interest other parents of preemies, as well as anyone planning a family, but his real-time journaling style, exemplified by the listing of all of Alex's toys, or everything he ate on a given day, will test the will of even the most sympathetic reader.