Prematurity Awareness Month
Fact of the Day
Q: What do you think is the single most critical medical breakthrough that has helped save micro-preemies? (or: "What is Surfactant?")
A: Synthetic SURFACTANT
Surfactant is a naturally occurring substance, made up of lipids and proteins, that is produced in the lungs. It helps keep surface tension down.
Think of a brand new balloon you try to blow up the first time. It's much more difficult than if you let that same balloon lose all its air and then try to blow it up again.
Now, picture breathing, and every time you breath it's like you have to open up those airways for the first time all over again. Tough, right? Surfacant helps you keep those airways from collapsing all the way when you exhale so that (in short) it is easier to breath.
Problem is, it doesn't start showing up in our lungs until about 25 weeks. And if you're a premature baby whose body lacks enough of it, it causes respiratory distress syndrome (formerly known as hyaline membrane disease). Before we knew about surfacant, babies (most famously Patrick Kennedy) died for lack of this substance.
A synthetic substance, mimicking the natural substance, is now given to severely premature babies through their breathing tube.
This medical breakthrough is the largest reason (as far as I can tell) that doctors could give JAM a chance at life.
And, this, dear friends, is why I love not only doctors but biologists! (GO biologists!!! You rock! You save babies! WOOT!)
Want to read more? Read the history of the rather recent discovery of surfactant here.