The First Breath: How Modern Medicine Saves the Most Fragile Lives

Olivia Gordon. Bluebird, $27.95 (368p) ISBN 978-1-5098-7117-9
Journalist Gordon debuts with an affecting and highly personal exploration of the medical advances that have saved babies who “would not have survived... if born 30, 20, or even 10 years ago.” In 2011, Gordon was 29 weeks pregnant when she learned her son had a rare problem, hydrops fetalis, affecting his ability to process amniotic fluid. As Gordon learns more about the condition, she reaches out to other parents who had had severe birth complications. She interviews neonatal physicians, synopsizes their field’s history, and—warning for squeamish readers—gives a graphic, firsthand description of a fetal surgery procedure that only became possible in 1997 (“the mother’s abdomen was opened and the uterus popped up like popcorn, pink and round”). As many stories are encouraging (such as about high success rates for treating spina bifida prenatally) as are heartbreaking (as when only one of a pair of premature twins survives). After her son’s (natural) birth and six-month hospital stay, Gordon arrives at a measured happy ending, with her son now eight, healthy, and still bearing a fetally implanted shunt in his chest while dealing with a genetic disorder—Noonan syndrome—apparently linked to his difficult gestation. Gordon’s audience will find this a tough but rewarding report from the front lines of fetal and neonatal medicine. (Mar.)
Reviewed on : 01/17/2020
Release date: 03/01/2020
Genre: Lifestyle
Paperback - 368 pages - 978-1-5098-7120-9
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